I’m a loser. I’ve failed examinations, first-grade choir auditions (that one still hurts), and high school hockey team tryouts throughout my life. I’ve missed out on a book deal, a love affair, and a wanted job. I dropped out of university, was laid off, and left a failing marriage.
Not only am I still here to tell the tale, but I also consider myself to be one of the happiest people I know because I’ve learned what to do when things go wrong and how to go on – which has led to some incredible achievements.
I wanted to encourage others to dare to dream when I wrote my new novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, but I also wanted to look at what to do when things don’t go as planned. Isn’t that how it goes in real life? We don’t always get what we want the first time — at least not on the first try.
What follows is my guide to what to do when things go wrong, and how failure may be a blessing in disguise sometimes — oftentimes.
1- Take care of yourself.
When things go wrong, it’s natural to start criticizing yourself. You take failure as proof that you’re foolish, useless, or unworthy. This, of course, makes you feel a million times worse. Stop if this is you.
Consider how you would help a buddy who is going through the same difficulties you are. Then repeat the process for yourself. Get yourself a motivational book. View a motivational video. Give yourself some comfort in the form of a cake. The nicer you are to yourself immediately following a setback, the faster you will recover.
2- Give yourself permission to be sad.
It’s critical to acknowledge your emotions. Allow yourself to be angry, sad, and disappointed when things go wrong. If you try to bury these feelings beneath a veneer of arrogance, they’ll erupt even bigger and stronger the next day. Get them out as soon as possible. Write or tell a close friend how you’re feeling. You won’t be able to move on until you’ve gotten it off your chest.
3- Keep in mind that everyone fails.
It’s all too tempting to wallow in self-pity when things go wrong; why does this constantly happen to me? Inside your head, it’s playing on a loop. This might be compounded when we see well-crafted show-reels of our friends’ or celebrities’ #blessed life on social media. In the glare of another’s excellence, failure can feel much more agonizing. However, no one’s life is flawless. Everyone makes mistakes.
Everyone fails at some point. At some point in their lives, everyone experiences terrible luck. J K Rowling, who was famously rejected by 12 publishers before finding a home for Harry Potter, is an example of this that really encouraged me when I was starting out as a writer. What if she’d given up after the first… or eleventh… rejection? Everyone fails, but successful individuals are the ones that get back up and keep going.
4- Locate the lesson.
Failure, in my experience, always has a lesson to teach us. “I have not failed,” Thomas Edison said when asked how he felt about continually failing to design a workable lightbulb. I’ve just discovered 10,000 approaches that aren’t going to work.” Edison was able to learn from his failures and finally achieve success. How could you use the setback to your advantage? What are the lessons to be learned?
5- What is now feasible as a result of your failure?
It’s wonderful to have the benefit of hindsight. When I reflect on events in my life that looked disastrous at the time, I frequently find myself happy that they occurred because they cleared the way for something considerably greater. I was distraught when my first publisher dropped me – back when I was writing for grownups. However, that failure prompted me to begin writing for young adults, which led to me attaining success much beyond my wildest expectations, including winning a national book award and having novels sold at auction.
Now that my writing career for adults has come to an end, all I can think about is how grateful I am. If you’ve recently experienced a severe setback, consider projecting yourself forward in time and asking yourself what better options you might find. Is it possible that the redundancy will lead to a better job? Could the end of your relationship lead to the discovery of your true love? Is it possible that failing the exam will bring you down a more fascinating, entrepreneurial path?
6- At the very least, you tried.
We expose ourselves to the risk of failure every time we put ourselves out there in some form. We are vulnerable to things going wrong every time we sit an exam, try out for a team, publish a book, produce a piece of music, ask someone out on a date, or try to make a new acquaintance. Life is a minefield of failure, yet if we never risk failure, we will never achieve anything. If you stay in your comfort zone for too long, it can become a very uninteresting place. So, if you’ve lately tried and failed, be proud of yourself for attempting. And keep trying, learning from your mistakes along the way.
7- See failure as a stepping stone toward progress rather than a setback.
When I first started out as a writer, I sent out approximately 20 query letters to newspapers and magazines, pitching for work. Only one of the 20 questions resulted in a job offer, leaving me with 19 rejections. But that one triumph earned me a two-year weekly newspaper column.
Success is frequently a numbers game. If you’ve recently encountered a failure of some sort, instead of seeing it as a setback, learn from it and consider it as a step forward toward success.
8- Make use of your dreams to re-energize yourself.
A life without dreams is akin to traveling down a dark tunnel with no light at the end – especially when things have gone horribly wrong. Getting focused on your dreams is one of the finest methods to rediscover your mojo.
Take a few moments to imagine your ideal day. What would your location be? What would you be doing if you were in that situation? Who would you choose to be with? Write everything down, paying close attention to the details. How would you feel if you lived your dream life?
As you sleep, take pleasure in these sensations. I completed this exercise at a really bad period in my life, and it was a critical first step toward regaining my happiness. Visualizing my ideal day provided me with a goal to strive for. It instilled hope in me.
9- You will no longer be afraid of failing.
Hopefully, by now, you’ve realized that failure isn’t something to be afraid of. It occurs to everyone, and the true question is how you cope with it. Use this knowledge to feel more prepared and confident as you go about your life and pursue your goals. Let me give you an illustration.
I recently auditioned for a screenwriting position. I’m desperate for this job, and I know I’ll be devastated if I don’t get it. But, because of everything I’ve learned to deal with failure, I’m confident that I’ll bounce back swiftly. I’ll concentrate on the things I’ve learned, such as how to properly format a script and create more precise dialogue.
However, I will consider what this failure might lead to — a bigger and better writing job…? Also, I will be pleased with myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and giving it a shot. I’m going to set a new aim for myself. I’m going to move on.
10. Recognize when something goes wrong.
When things go wrong in our perfection-obsessed, results-driven world, it’s all too tempting to want to hide away in shame. Or, even worse, act as though everything is perfect. While inside we’re dying, we make Fakebook updates with smiley-faced emoticons. And, of course, this only serves to promote the notion that no one ever fails. I’ll admit that writing the first paragraph of this article made me cringe.
Owning up to my education, career, and relationship shortcomings, on the other hand, felt liberated. I’ve gotten a terrific response from readers every time I’ve blogged about things going wrong in my life; it’s like a collective sigh of relief.
We’re not alone in our mistakes, and I believe we owe it to each other to be more open about it. Let us rejoice in our flaws and continue to dream big, confident in the knowledge that there is no such thing as “failure” — simply learning, growing, and living.