Self Improvement

Failure is awesome! How I avoid getting stuck when I feel like a loser.

Failure is good. Repeat with me. Failure is good.

Yet for the longest time, I was deathly afraid of it.

In the past, I would do anything in my power to avoid a mishap or a faux pas like it was the damn plague. It was so bad, it crippled me in situations where I needed to jump in and make an urgent decision, or caused me to act irrationally in front of other people. This fear of failure, quite ironically, made me fail even more sometimes. The anxiety from it all prevented me from learning valuable lessons from my missteps in my life, both personally and professionally.

This fear of failure still grabs ahold of me sometimes, but I find it a little easier nowadays to shake it off and try again. Instead of spending my energy obsessing over the things I didn’t do right, I now look at it like this – what actions worked and what actions didn’t work? I’ve failed at so many things. I guess you can say I’m awesome at failing. The master of fails! This is because a failed attempt means that I’ve merely discovered something that doesn’t work. That is great information to use for another opportunity to try again later… and then probably fail again. But wait! Another failure means more information to add to my knowledge arsenal. Sooner or later, I can get enough of whatever it is needed to do the thing… and finally, succeed.

Have you ever seen a child learn how to walk? That skill we take for granted took many failed attempts for us to achieve. What about talking? Using the bathroom? Eating with chopsticks?

All of those things required practice, right? And part of practice is learning from any failures along the way.

When I think of the word ‘practice’, I immediately think of my experiences learning how to play the violin while I was younger. In school and professional orchestras, to chamber groups, to duet and solo pieces in competitions. I couldn’t tell you how many times I screwed something up or played the wrong notes during a song in practice or in performance. This was one of the major ways I’ve learned to overcome my fear of failure – and to embrace it as a necessary part of the learning process towards success.

After a while, I began to think that it wasn’t the failure itself that I was afraid of – it was the fear of the unknown. As a human, I am naturally inclined to avoid things that could end badly for me or put me in harm’s way. So when I cannot anticipate the outcome or the consequences of an action or a decision that I must make, it can easily scare the crap out of me. It is a natural reaction for me to have. I just had to learn how to pause and override that knee-jerk reaction to become more comfortable taking risks. And it was definitely not easy. It took years (and more failures) for me to get to where I am at today.

I wanted to list my go-to’s here that I like to use whenever I start finding myself in a rut and when I feel stuck in a hopelessness pit. Some things won’t work for everyone, but the point is to try it out and see how it feels. And to keep failing at it until something works, I guess! Here are some of the perspectives I like to keep in mind when everything just seems pointless.

1. Cognitive Bias is not my friend here.

When I start beating up myself for something that blew up spectacularly in my face, it can get me stuck in a revolving door that makes every failure confirm what I already know at the time – that I sucked and my current attempts have been hopeless.

This bias is supposed to help make sense of the world around me and to help me make decisions in my environment as quickly as possible. But sometimes, it ends up putting me on a negative loop that can knock me out and even pin me to the ground. When I finally get over the emotion that comes with a setback, I try to look at things objectively and outside of myself. Once I get past the fact that I goofed, I can start seeing everyone else goofing up around me, too. And guess what? It’s normal! It’s okay. Just a small stepping stone to where I need to go.

2. I can’t control the weather outside.

There are just some things that I cannot do anything about in life. I mean, what do meteorologists on the weather channel do? They don’t get to decide the kind of weather we have, either. Their job is to merely forecast the weather. What is forecasting exactly? Well, it’s basically another word that means a very educated guess.

So there are going to be other things I can’t control, like getting passed up for a raise or promotion, or whatever other people decide to think about me before passing their own judgments. What I can control? My own actions and reactions. For example, I am still going to do my best to get to my job on time, even when others around me keep showing up late. Persistence is key.

3. Practice Gratitude.

So, I recently tried to make a pumpkin pie completely from scratch. Yes, the pie crust, the filling, even the whipped cream was all made from scratch. And I’m definitely not a baking expert. What happened, you asked? The crust and the whipped topping turned out great, but the filling? It turned out rather bland. It was edible, but it tasted like disappointment.

The final product. Still not terrible for a first attempt!

But hey, I have the opportunity to attempt the recipe again, and I know what I did right, and I know I can find out after a few more attempts what I was doing wrong. I’m definitely thankful I can afford the basic ingredients for all of the recipe testings that I do in my kitchen!

4. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone to grow.

This can mean changing something in my daily routine to keep things interesting, or even getting rid of a habit or an action that does not add value to my life. But change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit. If losing weight was so easy for example, then the fitness industry wouldn’t be close to being worth $30 billion today – just look at all of the Planet Fitness gyms popping up.

Failure is part of the growth process. Don’t be afraid to make some changes!

5. I am not defined by my mistakes.

It’s hard to not use my accomplishments as a way to validate my self-worth. I still struggle with this one some days. Actually, I only realized this recently while I was listening to Work it Out, which is an audiobook made by Amazon for its Audible app. In the first chapter, Mel Robbins is talking to a woman named Rebecca, who has way too much on her plate and cannot figure out why she can’t say no to additional projects. The reason? It went back to her childhood.

She was scared that if she turned anything down, it would make her less valuable to her workplace. Rebecca was also afraid of failure, too. She felt her accomplishments were a big part of her worthiness to not only her company but also to her husband and family members as well. Apparently, this began for her at childhood, where she would knock stuff off a to-do list for her father to gain his recognition and praise. I realized I was doing the same thing for a long time, and wow, did that wake me up!

There are ways to validate my self-worth without needing to tie my accomplishments and other outside factors into it. Like when I buy donuts on Fridays for my colleagues without expecting anything in return – that is an example of kindness. It’s about the stuff that’s inside that really counts, not what’s on the outside.