I have failed, many times, spectacularly sometimes. And every time I fail, I get into this self-pity mode, feeling like crap about myself. And when the failure seems too big, my mind gets darker, bleaker, and I feel weaker. Life seems less colorful, less enjoyable, less bearable. I get scared, or perhaps my mind gets scared, as the plans I had made around the success did not take off.
It’s a terrifying feeling, akin to loneliness.
And in my mind’s desperate attempts to alleviate this feeling, I start comparing, imagining just how good other peoples’ situations are.
Next, my mind, trained for years to be harsh on the self, starts finding faults within me. It is baffled, scared, and wants quick answers. While it is terrified, a part of my mind also tries to fight this feeling away, hoping the world could go back to the time when I’d never failed.
It wishes I hadn’t upped the stakes in the first place. It starts asking rhetorical questions to the self:
Why did you have to go and be yourself, when you could have just been someone else and avoided it?
Why did you not study harder when you were younger? If you had, you would have been at a better position today.
Why are you not better looking or more articulate?
How can you be more like someone else, and less like yourself?
I obsess over these questions.
I know you’ve failed too. We’ve all failed. And we’ve all felt that overwhelming darkness that engulfs us, breaks us and makes us want to cry.
Sometimes despair can be so unbearable, the failure can be so spectacular, that it manifests into a depression. When failure occurs, and if it has occurred to you recently, know that you’re not alone.
Life is a cycle. It is unfair, but still a cycle.
What goes up, comes down. One who wins today, fails tomorrow.
And while it may not make much sense to you right now, there is no success without failures.
In fact, failure is the only way to succeed, clichéd as it may sound.
Pick any successful man or woman today and you’ll find a history of failure behind him. Be it a famous actor or an entrepreneur. From Oprah Winfrey to the American president, everyone has seen massive failures.
And the bigger and more frequent the failures, the more successful these personalities are. More on this later, but for now let’s get you back on your feet.
As you’re reading this, take a few deep breaths.
As you breathe, allow yourself to feel the most pressing failure of your life. If it doesn’t come naturally, don’t force it. If writing about it works for you, then write it. If talking to a friend works, do that. Do whatever works. Don’t resist it, don’t deny it, don’t blame anyone including yourself for it. Just stop trying, and let it surround you.
As it slowly settles in you, you’ll start feeling it in your bones. Let it be there. It wasn’t a failure, it was an incident, like many other incidents that happen in the world. And what’s more, it didn’t kill you!! You’re still alive.
This incident just happened to you, and you named it failure. You could have also called it a lesson, but that would have hurt your ego. A failure can be blamed on someone else, a lesson cannot be.
Learning needs to be worked upon; It needs patience.
Failure on the other hand, is just an isolated event, something that just happened, like a bloated milestone. It’s non-actionable. It’s passive.
At the same time, blaming yourself would be wrong. It is easy, and not your true nature. Remember, the mind wants quick answers, and post any failure, you’ll be left with fewer friends than critics. When everyone is blaming you, it becomes all the more important to get in touch with your inner voice. It’ll make you stronger, a better person. And you deserve better than blaming yourself.
Slowly, as you get back into yourself and feel more grounded, try to analyze the situation in an unbiased manner, as a third party.
See everyone’s perspective and infer what could have been done differently. Remember, you cannot clap with a single hand. All parties to a failure will be at fault to varying degree, you just need to observe the failure as a fact.
If you’re able to figure out your mistakes, that’s it! You’ve done it. Now the failure won’t bother you as much because you’ve tamed it and transformed it into a learning that you can do something about. This is not to say that you didn’t lose something, because it’s a fact that you lost – something you wanted did not happen. And slowly, as time passes, you’ll have to accept the loss and move on.
This brings me to the final and most powerful argument which you can only realize organically, through the process of failing.
Failure is essential to succeed. It tells you exactly where you’re going wrong. If life is a journey, failures are signboards, and not speed-bumps.
Success is distracting, it overshadows the mind and overpowers the ego. It encourages insincere friends, who surround us with false opinions. Failure makes you focused, it is brutally honest, like a true friend. It frees us of false friendships and grounds us.
This process of failure followed by self-realization is critical for finding lasting peace and happiness and in identifying one’s definition of success as something that truly matters. And it was a failure to begin with which nudged you to go through this process, in the first place!
To summarize, next time you fail, don’t fight the ensuing feelings of despair, embrace them. You were definitely at fault, but so were the other people. By embracing your failure, you’ll calm down, and be able to derive the learnings from it.
The definitions of failure and success taught in schools are wrong, debasing them to simple black-and-white events, labeling failure as bad and success as good.
In reality, failure is good as a process and success is good as an outcome.
Your failure is a fact, but it is also your truest friend. It slaps you across the face, pulls you to the ground and points not just to the right path to your destination but sometimes, to the destination itself, before it’s too late!
Remember, if failure is an incident, there’s nothing you can do anything about it. But the moment it becomes a lesson, there is a lot you can do about it. After all, what doesn’t kill you, simply makes you stronger.
Tuhin Harit is a published author of the celebrated social satire, Mannu Rikshewala, released in 2016 (Amazon). Aside, he writes short fiction and poems for reputed magazines. His fiction writing mainly focuses on human interactions and the interplay of their emotions. He lives in Mumbai, India.
Image courtesy of Joseph Gruenthal.