Failure is part of life. From the time we are toddlers, stumbling in our first attempts to walk, until our last days on earth, we will all experience failure. In fact, there is no way to succeed or to grow in any way without failure. It is simply part of the learning process. A painter makes thousands of awkward brushstrokes on the canvas before creating a masterpiece. A baseball player strikes out hundreds of times before hitting a home run. By learning what doesn’t work, we learn what does. Theoretically, we should embrace failure, knowing that it is leading us forward toward eventual success.
But, when we are experiencing failure, it doesn’t feel like such a good thing. It feels like defeat, and it makes us feel small, unworthy, and untalented. At such times, it can feel easier to give up than to go on. But if we want to grow, we must carry on. But how? How do we bring ourselves back when we feel discouraged? Attitude is everything, so here are simple tips to follow the next time you feel like giving up:
- Take the panoramic perspective. Many of the world’s greatest cities look beautiful from a distance. Their impressive architecture and expansive cityscapes speak to us of human success. They represent the best of human culture and technology, and they seem to endlessly evolve to higher levels as they expand and grow. But if you were to live in those cities, you would find out that not everything in them is successful. There are always problems—homelessness, crime, traffic congestion, and more. A city is, in that sense, a lot like an individual human being. There are always problems to be dealt with, but this does not mean there is no success. When you see your life and your progress toward your goals and visions, try to back up to see the whole picture, not just the bad parts of town.
- Look for the blessings. A common saying is “count your blessings.” This is good advice because it encourages us to think positively, even when negative situations are dominating our minds. If you are facing a difficult failure, even if you think you can’t recover, try to find the blessings that are hidden in that experience. Even if the situation is horrible, there is likely to be something to gain, if not toward your goal, then for your character or for your development as a human being. In many ways, our personal character is like a diamond. A piece of coal must undergo tremendous pressure to become a diamond. Our character is the same—with the pressures of life we become stronger and more able to endure whatever life brings with equanimity.
- Remember your real identity. When people experience failure, they sometimes take it too personally. They see the successful people around them and wonder why they have not succeeded too, forgetting that those people probably have experienced failure, too. “I am a failure,” they say to themselves, as though it is their identity. This is a grave mistake, since it can never be true. In fact, “I am a success,” is not a true identity either. Reaching a goal is never the reason you reach for a vision in life. Rather, the important part is growing your soul. Living a visionary life is about your True Self growing and shining brighter. Recognition as a “successful person” is your ego’s concern; it is based on illusion. So, as the old saying goes, always remember that it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.
- Adjust your plan. Often, people feel unsuccessful simply because their vision is not unfolding as they had hoped. The conditions don’t match their expectations, so they assume that success is impossible. This is a kind of failure based in inflexible thinking, and it is one of the easiest to remedy, if you are willing to adjust your plans. Tao masters often instruct their pupils to be like flowing water. This is certainly important if you have chosen a worthy and lofty goal for yourself. Only the simplest, most unchallenging goals happen exactly as we first envision them. So, when you face an obstacle, flow around that rock by becoming like water as you create a new and better plan for success.
- Act again immediately. If you own a horse, as I do, you know that if you are thrown from a horse, you must get back on the horse as soon as possible. This is true for two reasons: you will lose courage if you don’t, and the horse will not respect you as its master otherwise. Visions function in a similar way. Like horses, they must be tamed, and we must find a way to reign them in to take control of them so you can get where you want to go. When experiencing failure, you must act again immediately, no matter how much the failure stings. This keeps the momentum of your vision moving forward, like a horse that submits to its master’s bridle.
In a way, moments of failure are the most important moments in life. These are the situations that offer the most opportunity for growth and self-reflection. Success is great, offering us encouragement and forward momentum on our paths. But, ultimately, we have no way to grow if we only experience success because there is nothing in success to change or reevaluate. So, the next time you face failure, embrace it and apply the above tips, so you can move forward and get everything you need from the blessings it offers.