I’ll be the first to admit I spend time feeling like a failure. Often.
So I know the first thing you need to hear after you’ve failed is this:
You are not a failure.
Anyone who accomplishes great things in business and life will fail along the way. Setbacks are a natural part of becoming a success. They might leave you feeling like a failure, but they’re actually a good thing. They mean you’re taking action and putting yourself out there.
In fact, if you’re not experiencing setbacks, my guess is that you haven’t pushed yourself enough.
When You Can’t Stop Wondering “Why Am I Such a Failure?”
Feeling like a failure is normal. It simply means you’re human. And that you’ve actually put yourself in the game and taken a shot at following your dreams.
But feeling like a failure doesn’t mean you are a failure.
So, why won’t this feeling go away?
Why Do You Feel Like a Failure?
If you’re feeling like a failure, it’s probably because you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone.
Good for you!
You’re in what I call the “growth zone.” Everything you dream of becoming, achieving, or figuring out exists here. When you’re in the growth zone, you’ll feel vulnerable and insecure — but it’s the only place where you can gain new skills and capabilities.
And guess what? If you hang out in the growth zone long enough, something marvelous starts to happen. That growth zone becomes your new comfort zone!
Setbacks are inevitable in the growth zone. You’re trying to do something you’ve never done before. The difference between learning from a setback versus feeling like a failure is whether you choose to overcome it.
You might be stuck dwelling on a failure because of:
- Limiting beliefs. Is your failure due to self-sabotage? You might be putting a limit on the happiness and success you think you’re allowed, yet you feel like a failure for not moving any higher.
- Imposter syndrome. You feel like any successes you’ve had before are flukes and, with each failure, you worry everyone’s going to find out you’re an imposter.
- Compareschläger. When you compare your daily struggles to the perfectly-curated Instagram stories of someone who’s at a totally different place in their journey, you’re bound to wind up with a nasty comparison hangover.
- Learned helplessness. If you’ve ever experienced trauma or abuse, you may believe that nothing you do can improve your circumstances, and that you’re destined for failure.
- Victim mentality. 99% of the time we say we “can’t” do something, “can’t” is a euphemism for “won’t.” You might be comfortable with feeling like a failure, because believing you “can’t” do something means you can stop trying.
I’ve got good news, though! You can overcome aaaallll of this and stop feeling like a failure every time you experience a setback.
How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure
All of us face plant.
Some of us more literally than others. One time I literally fell on my face… with a 250-pound scooter on top of me.
In that moment, engulfed with embarrassment and shaken by fear, I had a choice. I could get back up and learn to ride, or give up and be a passenger. I chose to learn to ride, because I didn’t want that fear to calcify in my bones.
Next time you face plant and feel like a failure, here are 5 steps to help you get back up and riding again.
1. Prepare to Deal With Failures
A lot of people feel like if they were meant to do something, they’d never fail at it. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works (oh, how I wish it was!).
Progress is never a straight line. It zigs and zags. Expands, then retreats. You’ll move forward, then back. Up and down. Sideways and back again. To fight the erratic rhythm of progress is futile.
Expect setbacks, stumbles, and big flops. They’re inevitable... but they’re positive indicators you’re making progress.
Failure is just a sign that you’re in the growth zone.
When you expect failures, you can prepare creative ways to deal with and learn from them.
2. Mind the Gap
Understand that at any point, but especially early on, there will be a significant gap between your ambition and your ability. In other words: You always can’t do something before you can.
To achieve anything, you have to keep doing the work, even when you’re disappointed with the results.
My brilliant friend Dr. Cathy Collautt explains it this way: Success and failure aren’t two different roads — they’re on the same road. Success might just be a little further along, but you’ll never pass it unless you keep going.
DIVE DEEPER: Do stories of successful entrepreneurs make you feel like you're failing? These three revealing truths about overnight success stories should slow your roll.
3. Don’t Go Global
Failure is just an event; it is not a characteristic. People can’t be failures. ~ Judge Victoria Pratt
Let that sink in. Failure is just an event. It’s not a characteristic. People can’t be failures.
Look. We all make shitty judgment calls. But your flops are events, not permanent character traits. Failure is not who you are.
YOU are not a failure and can never be one.
Don’t look at your whole self through the lens of a single failure.
Limit your judgement of this setback to this setback. Don’t let it go global and take over your whole perception of yourself or your life or your ability to achieve this goal.
Instead of saying, “I’m a failure,” say, “I failed this time.”
If you judge yourself based on this failure, how can you possibly believe you’ll be able to learn new skills and succeed in the future?
That’s why if you ever want to stop feeling like a failure you must separate yourself from your setbacks.
4. Applaud Your Effort
There are all kinds of reasons to celebrate. Maybe it’s the fact that you committed to showing up, no matter what. Or maybe it’s the fact that you’ve given yourself a day or two off for self-care.
Whatever it is, I want you to write it down, say it out loud and celebrate it. Do it now! Especially if you don’t feel like you have anything worthy of sharing.
Trust me when I say it will make a difference if you start acknowledging and appreciating yourself rather than berating yourself.
5. Learn to Say “That’s Interesting”
My friend Seth Godin has a great point of view on failure. He says it’s like losing a game of Monopoly.
“Unless you’re 4 years old, if you lose at Monopoly, I think you realize it’s not personal,” he says.
You don’t define yourself by how well you play a game of Monopoly, right?
So what if you take that mindset and apply it to what happens if your book proposal didn’t sell or you didn’t get that promotion?
“That’s a little bit like landing on Park Place when someone else has an apartment there,” Seth says. “It’s not necessarily about you. We are playing this game with 1.5234 billion other people, moving pieces around, contributing, investing, sometimes landing on other properties, figuring out what to roll next.”
Instead of freaking out over a failure, he says we can just breathe and say, “Oh, that’s interesting.”
Flip the Script on Feeling Like a Failure
Failure is inevitable — but it’s also 100% figureoutable.
You’re meant to do something incredible in this world, and that means trying new things and falling flat on your face.
The fall shouldn’t define you.
Remember, you were born with everything you need to answer the call of your soul. You have what it takes to transform and transcend whatever challenges you face.
Now it’s time to turn this insight into action.
Grab a notebook and try this trick to turn your self-doubt into productive self-talk:
- Brainstorm a list of the negative trash talk your inner monologue is lobbing your way. For example, “I don’t know anything about running a business.”
- Add the word “yet” to the end of thoughts that veer toward negative, dead-end thinking. For example, “I don’t know anything about running a business YET.” Use this simple, three-letter word to get back into the mindset of growth, learning, and progress.