Recently, I was scrolling through my Apple Notes app when I came across a line I wrote a while back. It said, “u miss 100% of the shots u don’t take – but pls think it through.” I tried to recall the time I typed this short line into my phone and memories came flooding back in a blur.
It was during a period of my life I had been experiencing great failure and disappointment. I realize I’ve grown a lot since then, and at a time when club applications have just concluded and midterms move into full swing, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about failure thus far. I hope this article will give you some takeaways to help you navigate setbacks in the future.
Preparing for failure
I’ve found that one of the most important yet overlooked ways to deal with failure is to simply prepare for it. The danger lies in jumping into something expecting, even subconsciously, to succeed without really knowing your odds. I think the reason many people take failure so harshly is that they never really imagined it could happen. Thus, the disparity between their expectations and reality can be traumatic. I’ve overlooked the possibility of failing in my endeavors multiple times in the past, and when it ended in epic failure, it hurt me much more than it would’ve had I recognized these unfavorable possibilities in the first place. I think this ability to understand the full depth of a decision is part and parcel of growing up, but recognizing from a young age that failure of any magnitude can never be ruled out is an immensely useful skill in the long run. In the ever-quickening pace of today’s world, truly imagining yourself in these unsuccessful outcomes can prime you for whatever the future holds. In short, be prepared for failure — research and understand your odds, form realistic expectations, and never expect to fully succeed.
Responding to failure
No matter how many times you’ve gone through it, failure is never a pleasant experience. However, it does get easier each time, especially if you learn how to handle it. I’ve found the best way to deal with failure is encapsulated by the quote “Let it hurt. Then let it go.” Oftentimes people do too much of one or the other and the consequences can be detrimental — it’s debilitating to dwell so much on our shortcomings that we forget our worth, yet running away from our pain will come back to bite us later on. We must come to a resolution with the negative feelings in order to truly let go. Only then can we reframe our mindset to see the positives of a failed journey. Rather than being cynical or self-deprecating, we acknowledge the merit of those who’ve succeeded. We respect the fact that there may be more talented and qualified individuals out there and find inspiration in them. We’re able to objectively re-evaluate ourselves and seek comfort in the fact that improvement is within our control. We’re excited to try again – or maybe just move on. After all, failure is just another process of learning, rewiring and growing in life. With each cycle of preparation and response to failure, our mental fortitude strengthens. Thereafter, we can take bigger and bigger risks and failure becomes a mere pellet that ricochets off our bulletproof vests.
I also think there’s something to be said about normalizing failure especially in the age of social media. When talent proliferates on the internet and all around us, it can sometimes feel like there’s no room for failure. This suffocating notion may prevent us from pursuing an ambition when in reality, only our intrinsic motivations should matter. Grounding ourselves in this fact is liberating because it gives us the confidence and independence to pave our own paths in life. I find it’s easier to embark on personal goals without others’ knowledge because it means I don’t have to deal with the perceived weight of their expectations. I’m doing it for myself and by my own standards. If I fail, I’m okay with that. It goes without saying that the converse is also true — if we’re witnessing someone experiencing a setback, we should give them the space to fail. A strong support system can be incredibly helpful in the face of failure, but first and foremost, we must make space for ourselves to fail.
Failure is another one of those unpleasant, yet regular occurrences in life. My answer to dealing with failure grows, changes and moves in different directions with each year that passes. I don’t think anyone ever truly masters failure, but I do know you can get better at it the more you experience it. Don’t let others intimidate you from submitting that application or launching that startup if you think you’re ready. If things go sideways, keep in mind that failure is normal. Let the pain come in and eventually it will go away. So press on in whatever lies ahead of you, and I hope this article will help you in the rough patches along the way.