“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”
– Winston Churchill
At 29 years old I found myself broke, living at home (for the third time), unemployed and a failure.
I had spent the past two years of my life going through personality tests, panel interviews and some of the most intense exams I had ever encountered to be told: “Yes, you are exactly the type of person we want as a future doctor”. Yet, in the end, it wasn’t enough. I passed everything, even after not having picked up a calculator in a decade or studied science since I was 16, but my GPA ended up falling just short of the cut-off point (and I mean just short, as in 2% short).
I found myself unceremoniously removed from the program. No letter. No email. No phone call. Just silence.
There’s a special type of grief that takes hold of you when you experience devastating failure. An intense pressure that takes hold of your insides and crushes you physically, along with your self-confidence and very identity. You get up and go through the motions in a haze, seemingly ok but likely to cry uncontrollably or explode in rage at the drop of a hat. And that’s just what happened to me. If that’s not something you’ve experienced, consider yourself lucky.
For over nine months I went through the motions as the crater I found myself in got deeper and deeper. I couldn’t find a job in the small town I’d been forced to return to and the continued sympathy from the people I ran into was just too much to bear. My failure seemed total and completely public. The shame and embarrassment just kept growing.
Then one afternoon, during an all too often meltdown involving tears and screaming, where I cursed the world and lamented to my mother about how everyone hated me and what a waste of space I was, she snapped. She turned to me and the words she said changed my life. “You are the only person who sees yourself as a failure. You want to know what people say about you? What people think of you? They’re impressed because you never give up. You keep fighting. Sure you’ve had a lot of hard knocks in life so far, but you have always found something else to strive for. Yes, you are down at the moment, but you’ve been down before. People don’t say you’re a failure, they say they’re impressed by you because you give things a go. You put yourself out there and try. It’s a lot more than most people will ever do and that’s why you see yourself as a failure, because you’re living a life that no one else has the courage too!”
That shocked me to the core and turned me into a sobbing mess, but it got me thinking. I was only a failure because that’s how I framed it.
That event was to be the catalyst that resulted in twisting my reality upside down. I decided that even though I had no direction and no success based on normal standards (no money, no job, and living at home etc.) I could control how I allowed my mind to spend its time. So I started reading. But I didn’t just read the books, I took notes, I implemented strategies, I researched anything that took my fancy and followed obscure leads into worlds I had only ever had vague interest in before. I flooded my life with all things self-help, spiritual and business. And I noted down all the ideas that flowed to me.
What I discovered was that everyone who has had any success in life, when they get knocked down or take a wrong turn, knows how to reframe their failure. This is something we can all do if we choose to and it’s not as hard or complex as it may seem.
Firstly, you need to accept that you have a choice in how you use your thoughts. No one else lives inside your head except you. You can choose to relive your failure over and over, or you can choose to look toward the future, find new things to be excited about and keep your mind focused on expecting only good to come from what has happened. You need to accept that wallowing and ruminating are not going to change anything except your current quality of life.
Secondly, you need to remember that what you see as failure someone else will see in a completely different light. We all view the world differently so, for example, if you lost your job and you feel worthless, someone else, in the same situation, may choose to see it as the start of a new adventure or the opportunity to start that business of their dreams. Everyone sees things differently so try to see how others may view your situation.
Thirdly, find something new to dream about, strive for and aspire too. Start to read, start to research. If you are open to this happening you will find something, I promise. If you’ve had a relationship fail then consume books and articles that raise your self-esteem, if you failed at a diet then try surrounding yourself with things and thoughts that raise your level of self-love. There is always something you can do. Follow the little nagging feeling of intuition within you and walk along the paths that you may never have considered before. It could be the most exciting and rewarding thing you ever do.
Lastly, rid yourself of the idea of perfection. We all experience failure, we all experience setbacks. You just don’t know about everyone else’s. If you insist on perfection you will live a stagnant life filled with very little joy. So embrace rough-around-the-edges as a lifestyle choice. As a result, you’ll find yourself with less stress and a much more adventurous spirit. It will allow you to continue to put yourself out there and take chances on improving your life because you will know that imperfection is truth.
By using the above ideas I was slowly able to claw my way out of the haze that I was living in and finally begin to feel a little like my old self again.
If you are going through something remotely similar, remember that you have the power within you to change how you see your failure. Chose to reframe it to empower you and look towards the exciting future that lies ahead. If you still can’t find that exciting future, keep looking. Trust me, it’s there.