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The Art of Falling Down: Why Failure Matters and How to Fuel Your Comeback


Failure is not the end of the story; but the beginning of the comeback

Failure can feel like a really big word, with a very heavy price tag. We’ve all experienced failure in our lives, and anyone who claims they haven’t is, well, they’re either lying or they’re in a state of denial. So, if failure is part of the human experience, why do we fear it so much? Some people have such a great fear of failure that it keeps them from ever taking action in their lives at all.

Failure, albeit painful, is a key component of both life and success. So why does failure matter and how can we best manage it when it does happen?*This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission should you make a purchase using these links, with no additional cost to you.

Let’s take a closer look at failure and see if we can’t come up with a more wholehearted definition, one that speaks to the critical nature of failure the value that comes from embracing our failures as essential steps (albeit painful ones) to becoming our best and full selves. And whether this speaks to you because you are working towards something specific or because at this point you feel like you’re simply failing at life, I would love to hear all of your thoughts in the comments below.

Failure and the Ego

For many people the idea of failure is ego-based, meaning it comes from that tiny bully in the mind that loves to dish out judgement, and feelings of shame and fear. From this perspective, the act of failure is connected to the value we place on ourselves as people. It shows up in the beliefs of I am not good enough because I failed, and who did I think I was for even trying.  What is more, this idea of failure lends itself to the concept that when we fall, it’s game over. We are inadequate. We’ve lost both the battle and the war. So when we think of failure on these terms, it would make complete sense that we would want to avoid it at all costs, especially public failures, because then our shame is on display for the whole world to see. And who in their right mind is signing up for that? Unfortunately, by avoiding failure we, by default, also end up avoiding success, joy, happiness and fulfillment. That’s a pretty big expense, especially if this definition isn’t necessarily true to begin with.

Read: Healing Your Life Series: Learning to Let Go

Re-defining Failure

If we take a step back and look at the whole picture we can see that failure is not the opposite of success, but instead a critical component of success. What is more, failure can arguably be considered our greatest teacher, and when we experience failure we also experience its cousins; knowledge, courage and ingenuity. When we look at failure as a stepping stone, a guiding point and place to reassess how we are going to keep moving forward we can better grasp that failure does not lead to broken dreams and diminished value as humans, but instead to greater resilience and wisdom. The truth is we need failure in our journeys to ground us, give us strength and to point us in the next direction. Can it really be a coincidence that there are so many stories of people finding success only on the heels of failure?

So, failure is a necessary human experience, but it’s still a very uncomfortable process. Let’s look at some possible ways to best manage the experience of falling down.

Budgeting for Failure

I know. Failure itself is bad enough, who really wants to think about preparing for it ahead of time. But there are some definite advantages to thinking about and becoming almost comfortable with the idea of failure (because, realistically, no one is ever going to be completely comfortable).

In her TED Talk, Shark Tank host Barbara Corcoran discusses the idea of a “failure budget”. In her case, Barbara physically allocates money to her staff each year to be spent on potential “failures”. By validating ahead of time that failures both do happen and are a part of the path to success it isn’t as gut-wrenching of an event when a failure does occur. It’s disappointing and stressful, sure, but not game over. The message sent by budgeting for failure is  It will happen. You will learn something. Keep going and always keep trying.

Now you may or may not want to create a financial budget for failure, but it’s an interesting concept to think about. Is there a way that you can prepare for a rainy day ahead? What would your raincoat and umbrella look like? Even if you cannot foresee where the failure might take place, you can give yourself the insight that when it does happen, however it happens, you will be okay.

The Actual Experience of Failure

There are no words I can say, or metaphor I could use that would take away the simple fact that experiencing failure absolutely sucks. It is uncomfortable, distressing and sometimes even heartbreaking. It also effects our entire being, from helpless thinking to complete physical exhaustion. So what is the best thing you can do when failure happens?

Acknowledge it. Acknowledge the experience of falling flat on your face. I’ve discussed in several of my other articles the value in giving our pain a temporary voice; we’ve got to feel what we feel, understand why we’re feeling it, and then be able to say to ourselves This feeling won’t last forever. I’m going to be okay. We find ourselves in trouble if we try to either avoid the pain or give it the power to completely overwhelm us. So notice it, feel it, be curious about it, and offer yourself some grace and compassion before standing up and deciding on your next move.

Read: How To Stay Focused On Your Goals When You Feel Like Giving Up

The Comeback (Moving Forward from Failure)

Every great story has a comeback of sorts. It’s the part in the movie where the gritty, inspiring music begins to play and the main character slowly begins to rise from the ashes (literally or figuratively). The comeback is a spectacular time in the grand scheme of things, but doesn’t always feel that way in the moments preceding it.

It’s not uncommon to be slow getting up after a fall, especially what feel like “the big ones”. In fact, there’s a good chance that for a period of time you really won’t feel like getting up at all; more like you want to hit the snooze button on life. As I previously stated, give yourself some grace during these times. This can actually be a very critical time to recharge and reflect on what just happened. You will not immediately feel like getting back on the horse, and that’s okay, however at some point you are going to have to just do it, heels dragging and all. Sometimes the energy first has to come from action, and the mind will follow. It doesn’t have to be a big action, but just something.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the widely popular book, Eat Pray Love, describes her process of “going home” after a great failure, or a great success. She notes, “great success and failure catapult you in two opposite, yet equally far, directions — which wind up having the same psychological effect. Your subconscious is only capable of feeling the absolute value of those emotions. And there’s an equal danger of getting lost out there in the hinterlands.”

Elizabeth’s description of going home metaphorically means re-orienting oneself after the catapult by returning to the place that gives you meaning, joy and “life”. And that may look like many different things.  Elizabeth refers to writing as “home”, as she says she “loves it more than life itself”. For you, this may be a physical place, a hobby, a passion, a relationship. The keynote here is do what you need to do so that you can approach you next step in an authentic way, even if you are still wounded.

Finally, connect with others and their stories. This can be in person or it can be by reading memoirs, biographies, watching YouTube videos or documentaries. There is no shortage when it comes to the narrative of failure in the lives of some pretty amazing people. Focus less on being inspired by the success of others, and instead become connected in the shared experience of failure.

Embracing Failure

The failures in your life may be really painful, but they are also defining moments in your story. Failure can be the moment that opens your eyes to an idea you never thought of, or an opportunity that would have never been presented to you if you hadn’t failed in the first place. Your choice to brush off the mud, wear your scars with pride and take your next step may be hard, but it can also be the very thing that leads to your next great moment.

What are your thoughts on failure? And what’s the greatest lesson failure has taught you?

~Melissa

Sources mentioned:

Rethinking Failure: TEDx Talk by Barbara Corcoran

Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating: Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert
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21 Comments

  • Reply
    Jenn
    June 28, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    Such a good post! I have always suffered from the fear of failure or lack of willingness to accept it. It played a huge part of the onset of my PPD / PPA as well. You give great insight and tips, so I hope it helps someone out there.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      June 29, 2017 at 12:01 pm

      That bully in our minds can be so harsh when it is trying to convince us that we ARE failures, when the reality is that we’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got, and that is good enough. I so appreciate your thoughts, Jenn.

  • Reply
    Jenn jg
    June 28, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    So true. Failure should just be the push to keep on going to do bigger and better things. I really love this post, it reminds me to keep on going

    • Reply
      Melissa
      June 29, 2017 at 11:55 am

      Jenn, that’s awesome. I’m so glad it could serve as a reminder for you. On to bigger and better, love it!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Spiegoski
    June 28, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Failure makes you stronger and teaches you a lot about overcoming adversities and building character. Thanks for the share!

  • Reply
    Sky
    June 28, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    I love the idea of budgeting for failure and I think it can apply to more than financially budgeting for it. To just take a chance knowing that it might not work out but still doing it anyway. It’s something I think we should all consider doing!

    • Reply
      Melissa
      June 29, 2017 at 11:54 am

      I thought budgeting for failure was a great idea too! I hadn’t thought about it like that before, but makes sense. Sometimes we have to just try! 🙂

  • Reply
    Christine
    June 29, 2017 at 1:19 am

    This is an excellent post and really had my wheels turning. I think the problem is that people are not taught about failure and how to deal with it but rather fear and avoid failure. I love the book Eat, Pray, Love and reference it in one of my posts as a must read. I love the story and how she moves forward through the worst times. I agree that we need to embrace failure and learn from it. Thanks for sharing your insights. I’m sure it will be very helpful to readers.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      June 29, 2017 at 11:52 am

      Thank you so much for your insights, Christine. I agree, to learn from a young age that failure is not only acceptable but necessary instills a level of resilience that can take someone a long way though life.

  • Reply
    Christina
    June 29, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    You’re so right! Failure is a part of success. How else do we learn? I heard at a 2-year-olds birthday party once, some parents talking about how their son had fallen down and hurt themselves and of course, mom was upset but dad was saying how that’s how he’ll know for next to put his out and catch himself. And sure enough, he fell down again and didn’t hurt himself because he’d simply learned from falling and getting hurt how to prevent it for next time. Sometimes it’s just that simple! Failure is necessary.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      July 1, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      Great example, Christina! It is a life long lesson that will always serve us well as we move forward, help us to become wiser, and lend us to make more informed choices for ourselves. You said it all, failure is necessary. Thank you so much for your thoughts! 🙂

  • Reply
    Aimee
    June 29, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    embracing failure is key! My wise aunt always said “you are not failing you are learning”.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      July 1, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      Yes! That is such a brilliant perspective to have. Your wise Aunt knew what she was talking about 🙂

  • Reply
    Bianca Karina
    June 29, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Failure is such a weird concept. It becomes subjective because we only gauge things based on how others around us and in the industry are doing.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      July 1, 2017 at 8:56 pm

      Excellent point, Bianca. I wonder how we would view the idea of failure if this constant comparison to others wasn’t so rampant. If we could focus simply on our own journey, stay in our lane, per say, would we be able to view our failures more readily as learning opportunities?

  • Reply
    Alexandria
    June 29, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    This is so true! Learn from the failures & keep moving forward!

    • Reply
      Melissa
      July 1, 2017 at 8:52 pm

      Right! Never stop moving forward 🙂

  • Reply
    Cori @ Sweet Coralice
    June 30, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Great post. Failure can be a good thing or a bad one. The end result of going thru it depends on our outlook. If we are negative, we’ll let it consume and obliterate us completely. If we’re positive, then we can view it as a refinement, like melting silver in fire and letting the impurities (so to speak) come to the surface to remove them. This is also how I view failure. We all suffer different ways but the end result totally depends on us. We have the control to let it either make or break us.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      July 1, 2017 at 8:51 pm

      Cori, I absolutely love this. So well put. As with all of our experiences, we truly have the power to choose how our circumstances affect us. Our interpretation of the events in our lives is what makes the difference in how we move forward. Thank you so much for your thoughts on this. 🙂

  • Reply
    Amanda
    July 1, 2017 at 4:15 am

    Failure is so underrated! I am so grateful for this in my own life because it has helped me redirect to a better path. Thank you so much for this.

    • Reply
      Melissa
      July 1, 2017 at 8:43 pm

      Being able to see a failure for what it is, a redirection to a better path, is such a gift. I love that you refer to be grateful for having these kinds of experiences; many people struggle with ever being able to have that kind of perspective. Thank you 🙂

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