9 Steps for overcoming failure

In business and everyday life, failures are inevitable. Sooner or later, we fall short of whatever mark we’ve set for ourselves, for for many people, it’s hard to get past it when this happens. One of the truths we sometimes overlook when it comes to failure is that the most successful people often failed many times before they succeeded. I often tell people I’m coaching, ‘Failures are the early drafts of success.’

So how do we overcome failure?

1. Learn from your failures and mistakes

As simple as this sounds, the world is filled with people who endlessly repeat their mistakes. Understand that failure is part of the learning process for most of us. We’ve all done it as children. In learning to talk, to walk, to ride a bike, we mispronounced the easiest words, stumbled countless times, and fell uncounted times when we took the training wheels off. Most of us didn’t let it get us down for long, because we were growing and learning these new skills were grand adventures. Yet somehow, as we grow into adulthood we lose our perspective and see failure as an end and not part of the adventure anymore.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”- Calvin Coolidge

Take some time to write down what you learned from your last failure, and compare it with your present efforts and activities.

2. Don’t be afraid to try again

Never let the residual fear of previous failure keep you from continuing to pursue a goal. use what you learned, prepare more thoroughly, and try again.

3. Stop dwelling on it

You’ve learned some lessons, maybe hard ones, from your mistakes. Now, it’s time to move on. You can’t move forward with clear direction and purpose is you’re always looking behind you. You energy in the present is better spent on improving your skill level- and trying again.


4. It can ALWAYS be worse

If you don’t succeed, what are the consequences? Is it something life-destroying, or something manageable? For example, you might be cold, but you could be cold and wet, or you could be cold and wet and bleeding. I’ve been there, it’s not fun. Chances are, most failures we will encounter on the road to success could bee much, much worse than they’ve been.

One thing you can do to prepare for and prevent failure is to write down your worst-case scenario. Set it down in detail, then ask yourself whether you can handle it. Even better, create a plan of action for it. How will you react if it does happen? can it be used to advantage? years ago I had a client who was afraid to move forward with a project because he was afraid of the financial consequences of failure. So, I came up with a worst case scenario that was fairly horrifying, and then identified a way that he could actually monetize the failure so well it would be even better than the success of the plan. This isn’t always going to be possible, but a health perspective can uncover all kinds of possibilities lurking in the shadow of your last failure.


5. Small steps toward your goal are steps in the right direction

When fear is really keeping you from moving forward, you don’t always have to charge ahead at full throttle. Take it slow, and get back in the action a little at a time. Ask yourself, ‘What small thing can I do to move even a little closer to my goal?’ Even great strides are made of small steps. When you reach your goal, it’s likely that no one but you will even know whether you took small steps or big ones.

6. Surround yourself with the right people

Whenever possible, you should surround yourself with people who’ve succeeded in what you’re trying to do. Talk to them enough, and you’ll find that most of them had failures great and small along the way, so not only will you be encouraged, but you can also get a chance to learn just how they overcame the obstacles and succeeded. It’s also helpful to surround yourself with at least some people who will hold you accountable, who will push you when they see you’re holding back. Straight shooters are worth their weight on gold when it comes to overcoming failure.

7. Stay positive

Okay, so you failed. So have I. So have many others. You may fail again. Being negative about it isn’t going to change what hapen, but it might affect outcomes going forward, and not in a good way. So fight the urge to wallow in self pity or speak negatively to yourself and others. years ago, I worked for a small tech firm selling VOIP systems. The sale trainer had taught us to say to ourselves after every call, regardless of the outcome, ‘The next call is a sale.’ Of course, most of us, including me, didn’t take him seriously. After a very slow and frustrating, first two days, I began to use his simple advice. Immediately I began to make more sales. I went on to be their #3 rep in quantity of sales, and #1 in revenue. This wasn’t the only reason why, but it was certainly a big factor. Why? because, as Earl Nightingale so aptly put it, ‘You become what you think,’ and what we say is always a reflection of what we’re thinking, one way or another. So be positive!

8. Talk to others about your failure

Communicate with trustworthy people who’ve had the same or similar apparent failures. Even if they have no advice to offer, they can at least give you some moral support. If you don’t know anyone you can talk to, you can always find books on the topic by people who’ve experienced the same issues.

9. Use your fear

The real difference between the courageous and the cowardly is not that the brave are fearless, but rather that they don’t allow their fear to paralyze them. Some of the greatest warriors to ever walk the earth were people who used their fear to motivate them to fight harder and longer. Likewise, you can use your own fear to inspire you rather than intimidate you. In my early days as a stockbroker, I came in on a saturday and heard that the manager was offering a $100 bonus to the first person to close someone. Less than an hour later, I closed someone. However, the manager came back and said ‘If you don’t close another one I’m going to fine you $100 instead.’ In those days $100 was a lot of money to me, and guess what? I closed another one before the end of the day. Your fear can become your ally if you give it direction.