The upside of failure

The truth

Lately, lots of articles on the subject of “the upside of failure” have been popping-up in my mailbox. Some go so far as to suggest that without failure our growth will be stunted, and in turn, our lives will be much less rewarding than they could be.

Throughout the years, plenty of people have asked me different versions of the “upside” question – “How do I deal with failure?” “How can I handle this?” “Why aren’t I better at this?” “Why is this happening to me?”

The truth is I’m not sure there is an upside to failure, or that there needs to be or that the question should even be asked or debated. I think failure is a simple fact of life. If we are alive, we will fail at something at some time – whether it is learning to walk, falling in love, getting and keeping a job or starting a business. I also believe that failure doesn’t have to be an “end” or a “beginning” or even a defining factor of our life. Perhaps, it is just something that happens to us – like being born.

The flip side

On the flip side, I know many, many people who have failed in some way and have gone on to succeed, and I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of stories of folks, who have turned their personal and professional lives right-side-up after tragedy and trauma. I’m sure you, too, have read and may have been inspired by people, who have crawled out of physical and emotional gutters, successfully scaled walls of denials, and left behind pasts that could have haunted them forever – I know I have.

Millions have succeeded against all odds, and lived to tell their tales. And, many of them credit their short-term failures for their long-term success, I’m truly not saying there is anything wrong with that, but here’s the kicker.

What’s really important

What I think is of much greater importance than wondering or worrying about how failure impacts or inspires us, is learning how to deal with it. I think when our backs are to the wall, instead of beating-up on ourselves or trying to claw our way out of or hide in a corner, it is much more productive to ask ourselves one or all of the following 3 questions.

  1. “Who do I want to be?”
  2. “How do I want to act?”
  3. “How do I want to be remembered?”

Sure-fire triggers

Asking these questions during times of sadness, strife or hopelessness may seem trite or, at least, incredibly bad timing, but they are sure-fire triggers to finding or unearthing your core. Asking who you are or really want to be, will engage the best part of you, which is a great way to counteract the pang or pain of failure. The minute I pose the questions, I know I’m on my way out of whatever personal or professional quagmire I have gotten myself into.

(Believe me, there are plenty of times when I want “my way” or for everything to go “my way”. I also hate messing-up or failing, especially publicly. And, I admit that when I feel really lousy or scared I can easily convince myself that fussing and fretting, ranting and raving, whining and crying are the way to go. Even though I know these options are not the answer to my situation, mood, or life, until I ask myself the questions, they can seem like viable options.)

Listen to the answers

So, instead of digging in my heels, cowering in the corner or kicking at the sand, (for too long) I’ve learned to ask myself the questions – or to call a friend, who I know will be more than willing to ask me the questions.

And, then I do the really difficult thing . . . I listen to my answers.

I’m not saying the answers are always easy to hear or accept, or that they lead me to immediate action, but I know they will direct me down the right path.

I also know that the minute I ask myself, “Who do I want to be?” my brain will switch to “go” mode and all the whining and crying in the world won’t replace the fact that I can and will do better.

The plan

So, the next time your heart is broken, your reputation is tarnished, or your dreams are fading and throwing in the towel, a hissy fit or yelling, drinking, smoking or overeating seem like perfect options –  ask yourself one or all of these questions:

  1. “Who do I want to be?”
  2. “How do I want to act?”
  3. “How do I want to be remembered?”

Then trust your judgment and your ability to act congruently with who you are or want to be by listening to that teeny, tiny voice way down deep inside of you, because that voice is the real you, and if you let it, it will steer you in the right direction.


Let us know your thoughts, and, if you are feeling brave and want to get the discussion started about how you turned or want to turn failure and fear into who you really are – please do. Your story might inspire others, and there is nothing wrong with that!

Wishful Thinking Works Life Coaching 

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