Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up.
A beloved Chinese proverb reads, “Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up.” Whether it’s literally not making the grade in school, facing the demise of a relationship, or not meeting a personal or professional goal, coping with failure can be one of life’s hardest lessons. But as the proverb suggests, it is not the falling down that is the failure, it’s the staying down.
Life-fulfillment strategist, speaker and holistic health coach Robin Berg, says, “If we can redefine failure and understand that its a growth process, a growth opportunity, then we can shift our relationship to it.” When we fall short, experience a setback, or things just don’t go our way, we have two choices: give-up or regroup. Berg adds, “One of the biggest problems with failure is when we think it means something to our worth or our value.” If we can frame our relationship with failure differently and instead see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, then it stops being a source of self-criticism and self-doubt and becomes a tool for self-improvement and offers a useful strategy for coping with failure.
When we start to assign blame and judgment around failure, we tend to get stuck in it. Berg suggests, “Resist the temptation to give meaning to the failure. Thinking, for example, ‘this failure must mean that I am not X or that I don’t have Y.'” She adds, “Resisting the temptation is two-fold. One part is because we’re upset and we want to assign blame somewhere. The other part is the part that wants to feel bad, so we don’t have to move forward.” Experiencing a failure makes it easy to quit, but then very little learning happens. Berg urges, “Don’t let yourself make an excuse of the failure.”
Once the emotions of a setback have subsided, reflection is the first step in picking yourself up. Berg argues, “Failure can be a signal that we’re supposed to move on. Failure can be a give up, a redefine, or a nudge, a guide.” She encourages her clients to ask, “What does this failure mean? Was my goal not on target? Does it mean I don’t have enough motivation around it? Is it not aligned with my values? Or do I just need to refine and try again?”
Sometimes, if the situation is personal, like a relationship or related to your health and well-being, like losing weight or sticking to a new exercise regimen, support from a friend or a professional can help you see the situation in a new light. “Don’t let yourself fall into a vacuum”, advises Berg. “When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and share with people it opens up a whole other arena.”
Another time to seek third party advice is when you’re stuck in a cycle of failures or seem to be experiencing multiple setbacks in one area. For Berg, she experienced this first hand in her last few years of dating. She says, “[During that time] I had a lot of heartbreaks and disappointments. Then, I came across a book about patterns of behavior and realized I was repeatedly choosing unavailable men. I had to look at that, own it and then ask myself, ‘why would I choose that?'” In order to move past it, she realized what she needed was to make different choices, and came up with the mantra ‘new choices, new outcomes’ to guide her dating decisions. She advises, “Be willing to try something different, even if you don’t know what you’re going to get. Be courageous. Be so devoted to wanting something different that you are willing to go through the discomfort of something new.”
Finally, it’s important to remember that often a failure or setback can bring the kind of clarity that nothing else will. As Berg points out, “Sometimes it’s not until someone loses their job that they realize and refocus on what’s important.” For Berg, her failed relationships and her courage to reflect on them, learn from them, and make different choices led her fairly directly to meeting the man who would become her husband. In this way, failure can be viewed as a great gift, an opportunity for a new, creative approach to a specific situation, or maybe even to life in general. As Napoleon Hill once wrote, “Failure is nature’s plan to prepare you for great responsibilities.” What great responsibilities await you?