Building Resilience From Feelings of Failure
Updated: Aug 13, 2022
If you've ever reached for anything, chased a dream or set a goal, you know the feeling of missing the mark. The disappointment of failing can be crushing at times. Falling short of our own expectations is sometimes the most difficult loss to navigate.
Feelings vs. Truth
Everyone has those poignant moments where the feelings of failure are tangible. We let someone down, let ourselves down. There is disappointment, maybe regret or wondering what if... A painful memory in my own personal archives still feels like yesterday. My grandfather was retiring from decades of ministry and I had diligently practiced a piano piece for the past three weeks in preparation for his retirement service. Already suffering from performance anxiety, my sixth-grade self completely mutilated Pachelbel's Canon (my exaggerated memory says HUNDREDS of people witnessed the tragedy.) I hid in the bathroom for a good portion of the night.
Feelings of failure are normal. Just like pain from a stubbed toe, feeling like you failed is a direct reaction when there is a disappointment. After the incident, I felt like I had both let myself down after hours of preparation and somehow let my family- specifically Grandpa- down. The key here is distinguishing feelings from the truth. We know they're not interchangeable, yet how quickly we can digest a feeling and eventually allow it to become so comfortable that it's disguised as truth.
Finding Value in the Who, Not the What
What you do is important. How you serve in your community, volunteer at school, work hard at your job, engage in the things that bring you joy- they're all good things but they only stem from parts of who you are. These things, the roles that you occupy today don't define you. Regardless of how you might be performing today, this week, this year, your achievement does not impact your intrinsic value.
When I look into the sweet face of my little boy, my heart swells with love. Sometimes I wonder in awe how can this be, that you're mine? And yet even during these precious days I'm reminded that they are short; each days he gets a little bigger, a tad wiser (more defiantly independent), and one day he'll leave our home and venture out on his own (sob!) One of the more freeing lessons to learn here is that HOW I'm doing as mom, the good the bad and the ugly- doesn't define or change WHO I am. When I'm having a rough mom day, I notice the connection immediately when I internalize this and feel bad about myself, as if my performance as a parent is directly tied to my self-worth. What a lie from the enemy this is! And how reassuring to call out truth about who I am that overrides my current performance level.
Redirecting Your Inner Critic
We know how powerful that inner voice can be. Little whispering doubts and deception might be dismissed as casual thoughts but in reality, you talk to yourself more than anyone else so you'll likely come to believe whatever you have to say. What are you telling yourself?
The only real proven-method of redirecting the critic that I know of includes
A) filling your mind with truth and
B) running away from fake news
You have to know what God says about you first of all. Accept that you are wonderfully made, and this includes your body shape, quirks, personality, and the things that fire you up and spark joy. Secondly, make sure the filter is in good working order when you're out in the world. In relationships, online, in the workplace...lots of other messages are going to counteract the truth. They'll tell you how you should be, look, talk, dress, and perform. If you have the solid Word to fall back on, you'll be okay.
Next Time You Fail...
It's bound to happen because we're human! If you take any sort of risk whatsoever, you'll experience failure. Get in a car, plan an event, take an exam, start a new relationship- things inevitably won't always work out. It's not that we don't care when we stumble or make the wrong choice, but we choose to learn from these things and move forward. That's where RESILIENCE comes in! So next time you're bummed out, remember a few things...
Remember who you are
Like I always say, remember WHOSE you are. If you're with Jesus- that's it. The most important thing about you is already established. What you do certainly matters, but it cannot change this fact that you are His. No matter how badly you feel like you're messing things up.
Things don't look as bad as you think
This is a psychological principle. Being the egotistical beings we are, we tend to think that our screw-ups and mistakes are a lot more catastrophic than they look to others. Remember everyone has their own stuff going on. They're not pointing fingers at your life without dealing with something in their own.
Speaking of catastrophizing...
Don't let your mind wander down this road, friend! Maybe you hit a speed bump on your path and your mind kindly jumps ahead to envision the world exploding. That little saying, "Don't make a mountain out of a mole hill?" Yeah, it can be helpful here. Chances are the worst- case scenario is NOT going to happen and things could actually be a lot more dire.
Be wary of self-fulfilling prophecy
This is a real thing, too. Sometimes we oddly protect ourselves from disappointment or heartache by setting ourselves up for failure. Ever heard that term self-sabatoge? If you're noticing a pattern of repeated falls and unsure of how to stop the cycle, this might be worth investigating. Are you not sure how to find success or afraid of what it will look like?
Taking ownership vs. blame
Remember, just like your various roles, your failures don't define who you are either. Internalizing every shortcoming is never healthy, which is why blaming yourself for a failure isn't the goal here. Rather, taking ownership for your role is key. Maybe you did make a poor decision or risky move, or maybe you had little choice in the matter. Either way, it's part of your story now and growing to accept that can contribute to your own developing character. Resist the urge to place blame circumstances or other people and take ownership.
Focus on reframing
As soon as possible, deal with those feelings of failure and reframe your thoughts. Maybe you did fail, and that's okay. You're not going home with a trophy tonight. There will be future opportunities. So what can we do to adjust goals or set different expectations? What is needed to help heal this particular wound?
When I think of resilience, I think of the bouncy people, ones who are able to bounce back from great difficulties or spring over obstacles with ease. In reality, a resilient person is not somehow less susceptible to emotional upheaval or feelings of failure. Rather, they are able to "withstand adversity" and accept life's challenges as opportunities for growth. A failure still hurts, but with some time and processing, it can come to be seen as a positive plot twist in the story.
Most of the people we know in history are known because they fought failure. After all, Albert Einstein was once mistaken for being mentally handicapped due to a speech impediment. JK Rowling referred to herself as her own "greatest failure" as a divorced mother on welfare prior to her success with Harry Potter. Thomas Edison is famously quoted for answering a reporter's question about his numerous failures to create a lightbulb with, "I didn’t fail 5,000 times. I discovered 5,000 ways that didn’t work.” Failure may be part of your own story, but doesn't have to define it.