A couple of months before Jana and I started this whole ‘let’s be independent’ thing, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The first project that I started was a total failure, and the next couple probably will be, too. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail, though; what matters is what you learn along the way. Forget the celebrity success stories about failure. Here’s how to deal with it from the front lines.
Failure Isn’t Permanent
Never call yourself a failure. It’s something that happens, not a state of being. It’s something you learn from, not something you become. You can fail classes and exams, you can fail to do your job or finish a project, you can fail to learn or fail to improve, but thinking that you are a failure gets you nowhere.
Before I launched Illogical Life, I tried to run a self improvement blog. I committed every SEO sin, I had a bad url, a bad host with absurd down times, and my content lacked focus and drive. I tried to show people how to manage their life with digital tools, as a part of an ongoing guide to ‘unsubscribing from the bullshit in their lives.’ It garnered less traffic in its entire run than Illogical Life has gotten in the past week.
Suffice to say, it didn’t last long.
But I didn’t let that project’s poor performance prevent me from reaching out to people. I learned from my mistakes, worked to leverage them across both my blogging and my copywriting careers, and now I’m back for more. I failed. Doesn’t mean I’m a failure.
Failure Is a Lesson
Even when the reason you’ve failed is totally outside of your control, even when you’ve done everything possible and failed anyway, failure is a chance to learn. You might need to take a step back and reassess your goals, but you should never see failure as something that won’t help you grow.
It’s easy to think that once you fail you won’t be able to recover. Don’t think of your skills as static; you can learn how to do anything, even how to learn, if you take your time. Trying and failing helps you develop your understanding of what you do, and you’ll quickly develop an eye for success once you’ve been around the block a time or two.
There was a time where I seriously considered giving up writing. It felt like my writing wasn’t improving, that I couldn’t apply myself as a writer and produce something worth reading. None of my articles communicated my thoughts in the way I wanted them to, and the voice I wrote in felt false on a fundamental level. No one was reading my work, and I felt so bad about it that I ended up quitting my day job due to depression.
So many people stop trying because they see failure as a sign that their effort isn’t worth it. They fear rejection, and on some levels they fear being challenged. Rather than learning patience, they let every failure get to them. They stop after trying something once and they don’t give themselves a chance to grow into the task. Even if you fail at the same thing a hundred times, you have a hundred chances to learn.
Emotions Are Temporary
This is a point that extends far beyond this discussion of failure, but it’s particularly pertinent here. Your emotional state is fluid and easily influenceable. No matter how bad failure makes you feel in the moment, you should never fear your emotional state. You can’t choose your emotions, but you can decide how you’ll respond to them.
We all know someone who loses control when they hit the wall. They’re on top of things when they’re winning, but a single setback can pull them out of the game. Rather than tucking their chin, they get trapped in a mental loop and ride until they can’t handle it.
I used to be really hard on myself whenever I’d fail, because my self-conception was based on being the ‘smart one’ in the group. I felt that whenever I got something wrong or did something wrong I was failing my social role. I’d get more than worked up about it; it was a vicious cycle.
Take time to handle your emotions, but don’t run from them. There’s a difference between catching your breath and burying your head in the sand. Meditate, work a punching bag, bake a freakish number of muffins; anything that lets you push through to the other side of failure and give it another shot. Learning how to work through your emotions can be hard, but once you do you can bounce back from anything.
People aren’t born with a secret guide to success buried in their heads. They might have help, they might have a leg up, but nobody has the secret. Because when you get down to it, you still have to put your shoulder to the stone and push.
Rather than comparing your life to anyone else’s highlight reel, think about the number of mistakes they made before they ever got to where they are today. Think of the time they spent as an unsuccessful person with a dream, the years they spent trying and failing, instead of the curated snippets you get today. I can guarantee that there isn’t a single celebrity, leader, or creator who hasn’t spent years sucking at their passion before they were considered good at it. They’re not special, and neither are you.
Jana and I started this blog in order to share our journey, philosophies, and lives. We’re writing about our illogical life in order to help other people understand that life doesn’t have to make sense, and that it’s perfectly fine to figure things out along the way. We’re not following the traditional ‘path to success.’ Why should you?
If you feel like you’re not as successful as your peers, remind yourself that you only have a limited view into their lives. Everyone loses track of something, and no one lives a perfect life. Put your time and energy into self improvement, not into measuring yourself against a false metric.