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Reframing Failure

How Do You View Failure?

Do you see it as a life-stopping, dream-ending catastrophe, or do you see it as a valuable experience that moves you closer to where you want to be?

If the first answer reflects your current mindset, then changing how you view and interpret failure could bring major, positive transformations to your life. Imagine a life without failure, without the heavy weight of what it means to you to fail. The reality is that this life is available to you if you are willing to shift your perspective around failure, otherwise known as reframing.

Let’s start with clarifying what it means to fail, since different people will interpret the word in different ways. According to my handy online dictionary, to fail means:

  • to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired or approved;

  • to be or become deficient or lacking; be insufficient or absent; fall short;

  • to receive less than the passing grade or mark in an examination or class;

  • to lose strength or vigour; become weak.

Everyone Interprets "Failure" Differently

The word failure resonates with me only when I think of an exam. I can fail an exam. But I can’t fail at life. Life is a series of experiences, and it’s only us who interpret them as successes or failures. One person’s failure may be another person’s first attempt. And that’s where failure can stop us – when we view an attempt at something as a failure, rather than a first or second try, an exploration, an investigation, a learning experience, a growth experience.

I don’t measure my life in failures. I joke about failing, but it doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t view my divorce, past relationships, or previous careers as failures. They were simply things I tried that didn’t work for me. I just needed to keep trying until I found the right thing. Same goes for the chronic pain and illness I live with, I didn't fail at good health, these are simply challenges I am facing. And all these experiences were not wasted – they have made me who I am today.

Depending on your perspective and on how you interpret “failure,” the word may bring up some strong feelings for you. Some strong and uncomfortable feelings, especially if the word was used by the people who were in your life as you were growing up, and most especially if they labeled you as a “failure”. No one person is a “failure,” but we can believe we are if that’s what we are told when we are young. The word can do a lot of damage. If we think of our lives in terms of failures, it can eat away at our self-esteem and self-confidence, paralyze us and stop us from trying again. Our fear of failure may become so strong that we don’t start anything new.

Reframing "Failed" Relationships

I find it particularly interesting when people label relationships as “failed.” Just because a relationship ended, does that make it a failure? What about the wonderful times you had before it ended? And all the things you learned? And the deep connection you had with another human being? Perhaps the relationship was only ever meant to last a finite length of time. A relationship can be reframed as an experience that ended, rather than a failed relationship. Compare the words “experience that ended” vs. “failed relationship.” Pretty different huh? Which one would your rather be carrying around with you?

Shifting Your Perspective

How would you feel differently about your life if you changed the way you labeled your “failures”? What if they were simply past experiences? Or experiments? Or tries?

The fear of failure is one of humanity’s biggest fears. And so what if we fail? We can usually try again, and we can always try something else. Sometimes we need to try things that don’t work out to figure out what it is will actually work.

We’re not going to succeed at everything we do. What is most important is that we don’t judge ourselves (for example, by labelling something we did as a “failure”), that we pick ourselves up and that we try again, or move on. That we reject the opinions of people who may have labeled us as failures in the past. It doesn’t have to mean anything that we didn’t succeed. And just because we didn’t succeed this time or on one specific thing, doesn’t mean we won’t next time or with something else.

We’re not meant to get life perfect the first time around – or ever for that matter. Failure isn't "bad" or "good", it just is. And it's often something we meet on the road to success.

In my next post, I’m going to share the "how to's" of reframing by giving you 5 Ways to Change Your Thinking About Failure. Stay tuned!

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