If you had a choice, would you invite failure into your life? Take a moment and think about the last time you experienced failure. How did it feel? Was it uplifting? Exciting? Enjoyable?
Failure is rarely seen as a joy. It can be embarrassing, discouraging, depressing . . . even painful! So, why would I be so bold as to tell you that failure is your friend? Because it can be—if you let it.
Let me share a personal story that relates to this very issue (and that will hopefully inspire you to view failure in a different way):
Years ago, I got very passionate about running. After having spent most of my life dealing with chronic pain, I had experienced great success using mind-body healing (check out Dr. Sarno if you’re interested in that process), and running became an integral part of that successful routine. I loved the way it made me feel, both physically and emotionally. Eventually I worked my way up to running marathons, and I was enjoying it so much that I decided to train for an ultra-marathon at Trillium Trail.
Now, even though this particular race was just over the normal marathon distance, it was a trail run, which is far more physically taxing . . . so, I had to train . . . a lot. Somewhere in the middle of all this training, running went from a fun, liberating pastime that gave me joy to an obligation that gave me a sense of conditional worth.
By the time the race came, I had developed the belief that I had to complete this race in order to prove my value, even though I was in physical misery.
Through a resurgence of chronic pain, my body had been telling me for months that I had taken it too far, but I refused to listen to those signals. On race day, I was in so much pain that I could barely walk . . . yet I was so worried about what everyone would think of me, that I ran anyway. Not surprisingly, I was in agony the entire time. Not only was I in mental and physical misery, but I was also feeling embarrassed by all the other runners who were passing me (some of them twice my age). By mile twelve, my mind and body were so abused that I had no choice but to stop.
At mile 15, there was an aid station, so I forced myself to reach it. Once again, my ego flared bright red with shame as I told the men running the aid station that I had to drop out of the rest of the race. They very compassionately told me that I would still have to walk to the main road and catch a ride into town via one of the service vehicles. So, off I went.
Now, here I was in the middle of the woods, continuing to be passed by all of these runners I’d intended to keep pace with, and feeling sorry for myself and very full of shame. After all, what would everyone think of me now that I’d been unable to accomplish what I’d set out to do?
That was about the time it dawned on me: nobody who was passing me cared whether I was walking or not; none of the men at the aid station cared that I’d dropped the race (in fact, they seemed unerringly understanding); and none of my friends or family were going to love me any less just because I could run 31 miles over rough terrain.
This was a burden that I’d put on myself 100%.
Think about that: I could have been enjoying the beautiful nature around me, but I was wallowing in my own shame and self-pity . . . for no reason! Nobody had told me that I had to accomplish this goal to earn their love or respect; nobody else was going to gain anything from me putting myself through this; in fact, even I wasn’t really going to gain anything from it.
In that moment I made a fundamentally reaffirming decision—to take all of that fear, shame, anxiety and unnecessarily misplaced ego . . . and let it all go.
When your mind is beating you up from the inside out, you have two choices: let it, or make the decision to get on your own side no matter what.
The truth is that nobody else is judging you as harshly as you imagine they are. In fact, they’re probably not judging you at all. For me, the second I let go of my assumptions about what other people were thinking, I was free to enjoy my experience on my own terms. I began to see the beauty around me, and I was able to stop thinking about my pain long enough to make it safely out of the woods.
Think about it this way: most people have their own lives to worry about—they don’t have time, for example, to worry about whether you finish some arbitrary race. And if somebody is throwing shade for no reason, that’s more about that person and his inner problems than it is about you.
Once you reach the point where you can accept that failure doesn’t affect your innate worth, you will realize a whole new level of freedom and self-respect.
So many of us spend our lives in fear of being rejected that we almost bring the feeling of rejection upon ourselves like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If we can force ourselves to let go of that fear, however, and simply welcome the possibility of rejection as something that will only sting temporarily, then we will begin to move past failures and awkward moments with ease. We will experience a surge of confidence; we will enjoy a new sense of liberation; and we will realize that all of the self-doubt, fear, and drama is all in our minds.
How can I be so bold as to tell you that failure is your friend? Because it has the potential to teach us and open our minds to change.
Don’t shy away from failure. Don’t hide it, and don’t live in a constant state of striving for perfection . . . because it will only make you miserable.
You can make the choice to be free. You can make the choice to let go of what other people think; to try new things; to trust the process and surrender your ego; and to be more authentically you and share that version of yourself with the world.
After all, it is only through surrendering to and sharing your most authentic self that you will find deep connections with others and find your ultimate joy and self-confidence.
So, get out there and fail a little—and then share that experience with others! What is your experience with failure? Is there a time when you remember a failure that, upon second glance, could have taught (and probably did teach) you a valuable lesson? What positive takeaways can you glean from your toughest moments? Please share your thoughts below so that we can all gain insight from those experiences.
Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.