A failure is a result, not a person. To call someone, or call yourself, a failure is a judgment, not a reality.
So, what you did failed. What you tried to achieve didn’t make it. You came in 2nd, or 3rd, or 134th, didn’t get that job, got injured and can’t compete anymore, fell short of honor roll or gave up and dropped out, the business went bust, the deal didn’t close, the girl didn’t take the ring, the guy didn’t get on one knee, the house didn’t sell, the bid was beat out, the late nights, nonstop effort, blood, sweat and tears was all for nothing. Hold it right there!
Everything on this list is a fact, a plain old neutral fact, except that last bit about it being all for nothing–that’s judgment. The “failures” aren’t what defeat you, it’s the judgment. Judgment is the dirty thinking that covers up the hidden treasures buried in a failed result.
To dig up those treasures, first you need to appreciate that there are two categories of failures: Failed Act and Failed Aspiration.
A Failed Act is just that, you attempted to do something, and it didn’t work as intended. You gave yourself 6 weeks to train for your first ever marathon and ended up blowing your knee a week before the race. You were determined that this time you were going to have a peaceful productive talk with your partner about your needs, but ended up losing your temper and getting into a huge fight. You spent years in med school and interning and months studying for the Boards, but didn’t pass. You spent your life savings to start a business and went bust in less than a year. You worked late every night, never took a vacation or sick day, kept a positive attitude, yet didn’t get the promotion or raise. You tried, you gave it your best, but the efforts failed to get the desired results.
A Failed Act calls for perseverance. Dig into what happened. Where did you miss a step? What didn’t you know, but you know now? What can you do differently that will make a difference next time? Mine the Failed Act for the hows and whys that led to the failure, and learn from what didn’t work to get a step closer to understanding what will.
A Failed Aspiration is when you think you’re doing everything right, and you just may be, but the ultimate goal didn’t work out as intended. Say your goal is to be a celebrated professional athlete, so you spend your life training and win time and again, only to not get the corporate sponsorship or fans you were convinced would automatically follow. You spend years working overtime, accepting every promotion, never missing a day of work to make as much money and financial security as possible for you and your family, only to discover you’ve lost touch with your spouse, kids, and friends, because while you were working, they were living without you. You devote all you have to convincing your dream partner to marry you, only to discover 5 years and 2 kids later they’re not as wonderful as you wanted them to be, and you’re the one who wants out. You live your fantasy of being a badass extreme adventurer taunting your jealous friends stuck back at home with your constant stream of Facebook pictures recording your exploits, trying outrageous stunt after stunt to keep the accolades coming, yet inside feel as empty as the vacant home you return to, because, even though you can commit to bungee jumping off a bridge, you lack the courage to commit your heart to another person.
A Failed Aspiration calls for brutally honest self-reflection. Dig into who you are. Where, when, and how did what you were doing get disconnected from what you ultimately hoped your life would be? What blinded you to the warning signs that were clues to how each individual success you had was actually heading you away from your goal? Mine your heart and spirit for the truth of how you fell short of what you really wanted to achieve.
Failure is more than a result, it’s a gold mine of valuable information and insight. A treasure hunt given to you by Life. Dig deep, and sort out the Failed Acts from the Failed Aspirations. Your life will become rich with new possibilities as you discover all sorts of precious truths, insights, and answers about who you are and what you should do next!