A few weeks ago my son, Marcus came home from his job as a “Sandwich Artist” at Subway, clearly upset. After dumping his black apron and hat on the kitchen table he slumped up to his bedroom. Concerned, I followed him hoping to find out what was wrong.
We sat down on the bed together and I asked him:
“What’s the matter?”
“Mom, I have to drop AP Physics,” he told me.
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t have the math skills to do the problems,” he said.
“Well, this is an important decision. It’s your Junior year and you’re interested in studying math and science in college so your want to learn physics and do well in the class. Before you make a decision, let’s talk to your teacher and how you can get back on track.”
Despite my reassurance that we’d figure out what he needed to learn and do to succeed, over the next couple of days Marcus was adamant about dropping the class. He’d received D on a quiz, his lowest grade ever. Clearly, he was feeling like a failure and rather than working to clear the hurdle keeping him from moving forward he wanted to drop out of the race.
This was new behavior. Academically blessed, he’d never had any trouble in school — no trips to the principle’s office, complaints from teachers (Okay, once in elementary school he was in a cafeteria food fight.), no struggles with assignments, no grades below B. Last spring he’d won 4 science prizes at the Vermont State Science Fair and a Silver Medal at the Genius Olympiad for his experiment on how Nano Silver impacts Daphnia, a type of water flea.
I e-mailed his teacher who was surprised by Marcus’s desire to drop the class. “He’s doing fine,” he wrote back. “He seems very capable from my perspective, but some of his recent work has appeared to be a little quick and careless.”
A few days later, the three of us had a meeting to figure out how to help Marcus bounce back from this minor failure, learn the material and succeed. While he’s working harder in physics than he’s ever had to work in any other class, he’s doing fine and more importantly he learned a valuable lesson:
Failure is part of the human condition and setbacks are part of life. J.K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, Barbara Corcoran, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Oprah, the Beatles and even Einstein failed. We all fail, make mistakes, and don’t meet our expectations. To succeed you have to roll with rather than resist failure.
However, failure is never easy. It can paralyze and erode your confidence. But you don’t have to get caught playing negative tapes — ruminating about what went wrong, beating yourself up and figuring out how to jump ship. You can bounce back from failure. Here’s how:
- Feel it you heal it
Give yourself time to feel the difficult emotions generated by the failure. Rather than pushing the hard feelings away or numbing your self by engaging in destructive behaviors like drinking or emotional eating, mourn. Experience that sense of loss. Allow the painful feelings to come and go. Eventually they will work through your system.
- Don’t wallow too long
Give yourself a move on date. It may be longer for a divorce or getting fired from your job and shorter for something like not landing a client. As you’re mourning don’t isolate yourself. Commiserate with a good friend. While you may feel like ducking under the covers and binging on Netflicks, loneliness will only amplify the difficult emotions.
- Practice self-compassion
Essentially self-compassion entails treating yourself like a good friend. So ask yourself: How would I comfort a friend who was going through a similar situation? Then before you move on and try to fix everything, take a moment to soothe yourself and give yourself what you need.
Be kind to yourself, rather than judgmental. And when your inner critic rears her ugly head tell her: “I love and accept myself exactly as I am, I am perfectly imperfect.” Which brings us to #4.
- Accept yourself
Once you mourn and turn towards yourself with compassion it’s time to accept yourself and your situation exactly as it is. Sure, you wish things had gone differently and maybe you’re even praying for things to be better, but the answer to your prayer is to be content with who you are no matter what! Although things are not the way you want them to be there’s nothing lacking. You are perfectly imperfect.
Be content with what you have; Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking. The whole world belongs to you. —Lao-Tzu
- Forgive yourself
Beating yourself up won’t change the situation or make you feel better. In fact, it will make you feel worse because all that self-criticism is stressful and generates the cortisol, the hormone of fight or flight, which can literally make you sick and even trigger weight gain.
Be honest with yourself and think about what went wrong and why. If you’re not sure get another perspective. Talk to a friend, your mate or a trusted mentor. While being open and acknowledging your mistakes can be painful, doing so will help you learn, grow and move on.
Another tactic is a coaching technique called Appreciative Inquiry. It entails thinking about how you coped and what you learned from previous failures and then applying those lessons to your current situation. Remembering how often you’ve bounced back will also help you realize that this too shall pass.
- Do what makes you happy
During good times and especially bad it’s really important to engage in activities that make you feel happy and generate joy. Only 10 percent of happiness is situational. Another 50 % is genetic. Which means a full 40% of happiness is up to you.
While stress and negative emotions like fear, shame and doubt, block the recovery process, being happy will make you feel more positive. All that positivity will boost resilience and enable you to bounce back.
Meditation is one of the most powerful ways to clear your mind and get back to a peaceful place. Over time it can literally change the structure of your brain. When you do it regularly you learn how to let your thoughts come and go. You don’t need to find a guru to do it. Simple set aside a few minutes a day to do nothing but observe your breathing. You can also listen to guided meditations or calming music.
While you’re in that relaxed state take a moment to visualize times when you were successful. Research has shown that visualizing success can literally trick your brain into help you feel like a winner.
- Be kind
Another happiness strategy, helping someone who’s in need, will not only make you feel better it will help you to see that your situation isn’t so bad after all. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or food pantry. Visit a friend or neighbor who is suffering or mentor someone who could use your support and guidance
Even though you’ve failed there’s still so much to be grateful for, so count your blessings not your failures. It’s also one of the most powerful happiness strategies. For more on the power of gratitude click HERE
There’s no doubt that failure is stressful. But when you fail rather than quitting see if you can grow by learning from your mistakes and recovering. Once you’re back on your feet look for opportunities. There’s always a silver lining. Failure is just a stepping stone on the road to success.