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Don't Feel Bad if You Have to Start Over

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Sometimes in life, things don't go your way. You take on something new that seems like it will be the best thing that ever happened to you, only to realize that you went completely in the wrong direction. You bit off more than you could chew. You set the goal, you went for it, and you crashed and burned.

In life, failure is natural. Not everyone can be good at everything. And that's ok.

When I was growing up, though, I came from a family of cutthroat perfectionists. We played a lot of board games and card games. And every time we would sit down to play something, my dad would say, "The name of the game is, Charly wins." The rest of the family had this attitude too.

Though I would have a tendency not to be as cutthroat on the game board as they were, I carried this attitude over into the rest of my life. I never saw failure as something that was an option for me. I set goals and accomplished all of them. Well into my late 20's.

The first time I had to admit defeat was with the end of my marriage when I was 29. It made me have to rethink my entire mindset and attitude towards life. Similarly, the first time I took on a task at work that I knew I couldn't accomplish was sometime in my mid-30's. It was the first time I ever had to say no at the office. And it stung.

I wish I had learned to fail earlier in life, so that I could have learned to do it more gracefully. It would have kept me from holding onto things too long that were impossible for me to accomplish. It would have taught me that we learn more about ourselves from failure than success.

It took Einstein 1000 tries to make a lightbulb. That means he failed 999 times.

Failure as a teacher

Recently, I moved back to the US from Germany. I carried with me a sense of having failed both as an expat and as a mother. This is something I am trying to process, to learn from, to grow from, and to help me become a better person.

No one can do everything, at least not well. I grew up having my dad tell me that you can do anything you put your mind to, as long as you are willing to work hard. I really internalized that message, and it makes me always keep striving. But sometimes, all the hard work in the world can't help you if something isn't in your skillset.

This last year, I learned that learning to speak German fluently is freakishly hard. Or, at least it was for me. At some point, I realized that I was never going to be fluent enough to get the kind of job I was used to having in the US, so I moved back here.

My failure was far from graceful. I kept pushing, and when I couldn't push any harder, I started beating myself up for not being 'good enough.' The problem is, though, failing has nothing to do with your goodness, and shouldn't impact your self worth. But it is easy to let that happen.

If you want to learn from your failure, instead of letting it define you, then you have to be willing to try something else and move on when it is clear that something isn't going to work out.

Here are some tips from Better Up about how to learn from failure:

  1. Don’t give up

  2. Adopt a growth mindset 

  3. Practice Inner Work®  

  4. Be courageous 

  5. Build mental fitness

Just because you have to give up on a specific task, it doesn't mean you should give up on yourself. Even if you aren't good at one thing, it doesn't mean you have failed as a person. You just failed at a task. You are human, just like everyone else, and bound to make mistakes. Don't let one failure define you.

Cultivating a growth mindset is another way that we allow ourselves to learn from failure. Research indicates that having a growth mindset allows us to be lifelong learners, instead of having a fixed mindset and believing that our talents define us.

According to Renissance,

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (Dweck, 2015)

When we have a growth mindset, we are willing to try new tasks, new ways of doing things, and adapt to change more easily. We believe that we are in a constant state of evolution, growth and development. This allows us to learn from failure and move on.

Practicing Inner Work is another way that we can become more resilient, and allow ourselves to try again after failure. Better Up defines Inner Work as:

  • Mental acts or activities focused on your inner world to achieve a purpose or result. That purpose could be to “the good ordering of your mind” as recommended by Marcus Aurelius, gaining clarity as to why a particular coworker bothers you so much through self-reflection or meditating on your values or principles.

  • More advanced Inner Work® can consist of things like quieting your own inner critic and embracing your feelings, so you can deeply listen to what others are feeling.

You can do inner work in a variety of ways, by learning to quiet your mind. You can use a structured practice like mindfulness or meditation. Or, you can work with a coach or therapist to reflect on how you would like to change in the future. You can journal it out and write about a situation that went wrong, or simply take a few minutes to reflect before taking further action.

Learning to develop mental fitness is something that is just as important as developing physical fitness. It is learning skills and tools to assist us through life's ups and downs.

Better up defines mental fitness as:

having and maintaining a state of well-being and cultivating awareness of how we think, behave and feel.  

The more mentally fit you are, the better equipped you are to deal with difficult situations as they arise. It gives you agility and the ability to adapt more easily to change. You can also deal more easily with difficult people in your life.

Moving Forward

One of the key lessons we can learn from failure is that sometimes, it is necessary to let things go. We need to release our attachment to certain outcomes, and try something new. We realize that in life, things are in a constant state of change, and we can't always control what happens.

When you want to move on from failure, you can embrace the lessons you have learned from it, and decide how you will do something differently in the future. It sounds easy, but it can take time, so make sure to be gentle with yourself!

Here are some tips from Very Well Mind about moving on after failure:

  1. Embrace Your Emotions

  2. Recognize Unhealthy Attempts to Reduce Pain

  3. Practice Healthy Coping Skills

  4. Acknowledge Irrational Beliefs About Failure

  5. Develop Realistic Thoughts About Failure

  6. Accept an Appropriate Level of Responsibility

  7. Research Famous Failures

  8. Ask Yourself What You Can Learn

  9. Create a Plan for Moving Forward

  10. Face Your Fears of Failure

When you fail at something, it can feel extremely personal. This is true no matter what area of life your failure falls into. It can create a lot of strong emotions, and make you doubt yourself and your abilities. If you find yourself falling into limiting beliefs like "I can't do anything right" or "I'm not good at anything" you probably need to look into your core beliefs about what failure means.

Honestly, failure is not as catastrophic as we often make it out to be. Failing at something, no matter how important it is to us, doesn't make us bad people. It doesn't mean your life is over. It doesn't mean that you will never be good at anything again.

Sometimes, a failure that makes you question everything about yourself and your life can be a turning point. It allows you to start over with a clean slate. It allows you to start over and look at yourself in a new light. Starting over doesn't have to be a bad thing. It can allow you to build something completely new out of your life.

If you are having trouble working through your fears, your limiting beliefs, or your mental health as a result of a failure, it can help to consult a professional like a therapist or a life coach. Having someone to help you develop new coping skills or a plan for your life can be extremely beneficial. Sometimes, other people can look at your life more objectively than you can yourself.

Remember, one failure doesn't define who you are as a person. Being bad at one thing doesn't make you bad at everything. Failure is a normal part of life that everyone will experience. Even successful people fail, they just learn to embrace it with its lessons and move forward.

Allow failure to be a teacher instead of an enemy. Then, you will be able to become more resilient, and live a completely different life. You will be able to adopt a growth mindset and become a stronger person as a result of what has happened in your life. Failure doesn't have to be the end. It can be the start of a beautiful new beginning.


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