Congratulations, you failed!
You tried your hardest, put forth your best, and it just wasn’t good enough. But did you really fail? You tried your hardest. You put forth your best. You gave it your all. Yes, you FAILED—but does that make you a FAILURE?
We tend to think of those two words as synonymous. When we fail at something, it is a tendency for many people—myself included—to take that failure to heart.
We blame ourselves for not being good enough, not trying hard enough, not wanting it hard enough. In some instances we become angry at ourselves for not getting or others for not giving us the opportunity we worked so hard for and feel we deserve. But why do we think of failure as a gigantic hole that sucks up the joy, the motivation, the meaning in our lives? Instead we need to look at that failure as what it simply is: a hiccup. Because despite the things we have been through, the failures we have made, they do not define us.
Now, I am what you may “define” as a perfectionist—I am now, and I always have been.
I would beat myself up over an A- in school and sing phrases over and over again, unsatisfied with a minor imperfection each time, eventually driving my Dad nuts (he would exclaim, “You have a beautiful voice, just SING SOMETHING ELSE!”) It’s just who I am. My perfectionism ultimately serves me well when it comes to things such as completing my work and performing, but, again and again, I would carry this harsh, almost “tiger-mom-like” view with me if I performed in any way less than what was—in my mind—perfect. This harsh mindset would loom over me when I made mistakes:
When I didn’t get the part I wanted in a play or musical.
When I messed up that one note or word in a performance when I had done it perfectly before
When I got that one 2 mixed in all my 1s in Solo & Ensemble (choir and band students will know what I’m talking about)
When I got that A-/B+, lowering my GPA to a 3.9750 (and yes, I always stated 4 decimal points…)
And sometimes, it still does:
When I don’t get the part I want in a film/short/project
When I don’t sing as well as I know I can
When I don’t win the contest at work
When I make a minor mistake at work that I know I shouldn’t have
I’ll find myself tending to think, “Well that was stupid,” or, “You’re so stupid,” not even realizing how detrimental that really is.
When I need to be in my own corner, I’m instead my biggest obstacle; my “inner voice” ends up hindering instead of helping me. And I’m not alone. Studies have shown that “harping” on ourselves can lead to some of the most common mental health problems today. How we process our failures can have a positive or negative impact on our future successes depending on how we treat ourselves in these moments.
I realize that breaking habits is tough. Staying in the rut is easy and “the norm”.
First, we need to recognize when we are treating ourselves unfairly: when we beat on ourselves—intentionally or unintentionally—or make those little comments belittling our efforts or self-worth. Then, we need to silence that voice, stand up for ourselves, and adopt a zero tolerance policy. Remember: “It’s not me saying that, it’s an internal enemy trying to take me off course and steer me away from my interests and goals.” (2) By recognizing how we treat ourselves in moments we identify as failures, we will be more able to combat those moments when they rear their ugly heads and say, “Enough!”
Now, when I fail, I think of what Denzel Washington said to the University of Pennsylvania and Dillard University:
Fail big. Today is the beginning of the rest of your life and it can be very frightening. It's a new world out there, and it's a mean world out there, and you only live once. So do what you feel passionate about….Don’t be afraid to fail….you will fail at some point in your life. Accept it, you will lose. You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There’s no doubt about it….Embrace it, because it’s inevitable. (1)
So congratulations, WE failed ☺
NOW WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
(1) Washington, Denzel. “Fall Forward.” Denzel Washington's Inspiring Commencement Speeches. 2020, www.characteractionmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/D-Washington-Speech-Transcript.pdf.
(2) Firestone, Lisa. “How Negative Thoughts Are Ruining Your Life.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 20 Aug. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201408/how-negative-thoughts-are-ruining-your-life.