A few years after graduating college, I started writing a blog about trying to pay off my student loans in three years. It was pretty small and relatively unknown at first, but eventually it garnered some attention with a local financial writer and radio personality. He had me on his show several times and became a bit of a mentor.
Eventually, he talked to me about the possibility of working for him in the future. The conversation progressed, and eventually, he promised me a concrete position as soon as his budget freed up. That would take a few months, he said, but no longer.
I waited, and waited, and waited. Then I started asking about the position more firmly during our conversations. Finally, I flat out asked him if he had any intention of following through on his promise. That’s when I stopped hearing from him.
I was crushed and put the blame entirely on myself. I was certain I had said something, or done something, or not done something to make him retract the offer. It took me years to fully recover from my perceived failure, and I learned a lot about moving on and letting go.
If you’ve fallen down, here are some ways you can pick yourself back up.
Be kind to yourself.
For years, I thought if I punished myself every time I failed, I’d learn not to do it again. Instead, the shame and guilt only pushed me away from figuring out what went wrong. Any time you fail, you have to forgive yourself for what happened.
I like to close my eyes and visualize myself as a friendly kindergarten teacher, talking to a younger version of myself. I speak in a sweet, soft tone and say things like, “Hey, it’s ok little pupper. Think of this as an opportunity to learn and grow. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a bad person. It just means you’re human.”
It may sound contradictory to some, but being nice to myself has yielded more change than being mean and condescending. Think of it as talking to yourself the way you’d talk to a good friend going through a rough patch. You wouldn’t criticize their mistakes – you’d try to build them back up with positivity and support.
Have no zero days.
When I experience failure, my instinct is to run away and hide under the covers, both literally and figuratively. I don’t feel like doing anything productive, like going to the gym, eating healthy or working on my hobbies. But feeling sorry for myself only makes the feeling of failure linger.
When you fail, you have to try even harder to get back up again. Start by doing something simple like taking a walk outside or reading a self-help book. Doing small things like that will make you rebound faster than laying on the couch binging on Netflix.
Every day, aim to do one productive thing, like meditate, apply for new jobs or work out. Mark an X on the calendar every time you’ve completed that thing. Your goal is to do something every day, no matter how inconsequential it seems.
Don’t worry about whether or not your heart is in it – this is about going through the motions. By stringing together a series of Xs, you’ll feel better about yourself. You’ll be more motivated to do other, bigger things, like taking online classes or cold calling a potential mentor.
List your accomplishments.
After we fail at something, our minds get clouded by self-doubt and insecurity. When I’m feeling down, I think about the amazing things I’ve accomplished and reminded myself that I’m capable of success as well as failure.
Sit and write down a few things you’ve accomplished recently, like running a marathon or being a great mom. The goal is not to forget or ignore your failure, but rather to remind yourself that failure does not define you.
For example, when I’m having a bad day and feeling lame, I think about how I paid off my student loans in three years, how I’m successfully self-employed and how I moved across the country without a support network. Taking a second to appreciate my victories makes me more confident in my ability to overcome my failures.
When you’re feeling like a failure, it’s easy to see your life as a series of bad turns. That kind of thinking can make you feel unlucky, cursed or doomed to remain a failure.
To combat this mindset, try writing down at least three things you’re grateful for. Finding time for gratitude will help you see the positivity in your life. Even on the worst day, you can find something to be thankful for – like nice weather, a burger from your favorite fast food place or a kiss from your dog. Focusing on failure will only exacerbate your feelings while being grateful will shift your focus.
One way to feel grateful is to volunteer with people who truly are less fortunate than you and who need your help. By getting out of your own skin, you’ll start to realize that this failure is only a blip and doesn’t have to define the rest of your life.
Do you recall a time when you dealt with failure? How did you overcome it? Let us know in the #Adulting Facebook community.