In 1860 a thirty-eight-year old man was working as a handyman for his father, a leather merchant. He kept books, drove wagons and handled hides for about $66 a month. Prior to this menial job the man had failed as a soldier, a farmer and a real estate agent. Most of the people who knew him had written him off as a failure. Only eight years later he was President of the United States. The man was Ulysses S. Grant.
Most of us are afraid of failing. Admit it. We all face fears and anxieties every day, and the only way to overcome them and succeed is to recognize them up front so we can confront them directly. Examine your fears during the light of day. Somehow they always seem worse at night and more difficult to face.
Ask yourself what might happen during the day that you’re afraid of – failure to complete a big project at work, for example, or rejection by someone. Then think of how you could prevent that failure. Be on the lookout for behaviors and thoughts that add to your fear. Train yourself to change your patterns of action and thinking. Finally, pay attention to what you learn about failure as you confront it. Use the experience of facing and overcoming your fear to confront and defeat the obstacles you face every day. Start looking at failure as an opportunity to avoid a future mistake.
Failure can be one more step on your road to success. You just have to turn it around in a positive direction. It can strengthen your determination to overcome obstacles. Failure can make you braver in the face of opposition. It can help you learn what you need to do in order to succeed. Failure can teach you to recognize your limitations and your strengths. It can encourage you to change your strategy.
Though everyone faces setbacks in life, few of us should really call ourselves “losers.” Part of success is dealing with, and ultimately overcoming, our failures.
Keep your confidence and follow this advice:
- Change your perspective. Don’t think of every unsuccessful attempt as a failure. Almost no one succeeds at everything the first time. Most of us attain our goals only through repeated effort. Take the negativity out of failure by viewing it as a learning experience. Do your best to learn everything you can about what happened and why.
- Try new approaches. Persistence is important, but repeating the same actions over and over again, hoping that this time you’ll succeed, probably won’t get you any closer to your objective. Look at your previous unsuccessful efforts and decide what to change. Keep making adjustments, using your experience as a guide.
- Define the problem better. Analyze the situation – what you want to achieve, what your strategy is, why it didn’t work and so on. Ask yourself if you’re really viewing the problem correctly. If you need money, for example, one option is to increase revenue – but you could also try cutting expenses. Think about what you’re really trying to do.
- Don’t be a perfectionist. You may have an idealized vision of what success will look and feel like. Though that can be motivational, it may not be realistic. Succeeding at one goal won’t eliminate all your problems. Be clear on what will satisfy your objectives, and don’t dwell on superficial details.
- Don’t label yourself. You may have failed, but you’re not a failure until you stop trying. Think of yourself as someone still striving toward a goal, and you’ll be better able to hang in there for the long haul.
- Pick your battles. You’ve got to know when sticking to your position is going to be worth the time and energy, and when to back down in order to conserve your resources for the next confrontation. You don’t have to succeed all the time to win in the end.
- Don’t play it too safe. In order to succeed, you’ve got to be willing to fail. The people around you will catch on to your dislike of risk if you never take on a difficult project or an ambitious challenge. Don’t shy away from hard work if you want your boss, or your teammates, to believe in you.
Mackay’s Moral: Some of the best lessons we ever learned, we learned from our mistakes and failures.
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