Nobody likes to fail. We generally don’t set out to make mistakes. I’ve never heard anyone on the precipice of a decision say “I hope I’ll regret this decision later on.”
It’s typically the opposite. One of our core emotional drivers is the fear of failure. The fear of failure motivates us to do our homework, do our research, work hard, create a plan, and do all the other things we do to ensure that we won’t fail.
It doesn’t always work out in our favor. We fail. We make mistakes. We say or do things we later regret.
The Pain of Failure
The result is that we experience the pain of disappointment. Of friends, family, people who supported and championed us.
Most of all: of ourselves.
There is no greater pain than the pain of disappointing yourself, of knowing you could have done better, of feeling like you didn’t maximize your potential.
How We Escape the Pain of Failure
As a way to avoid this pain , we often reframe and redefine our failures and mistakes.
Mistakes are “lessons along the path.” Failure “shows where you need to build strength.”
We speak about “failing forward” or “failing to success.”
It’s not a failure if you learned from it.
It wan’t meant to be.
It’s as if learning a lesson moves an experience from the failure column to the success column on the balance sheet of our lives.
We are experts at rationalizing our experience. And we are masters at techniques we can use to avoid pain.
On one hand, this can help us release the pain and move forward. No need for disappointment as long as you learned a lesson or used the failure as an “opportunity to grow.”
This reframing does not serve us in the long run. It is a form of intellectual, emotional, or spiritual bypass; an attempt to make an end-run around the pain of disappointment.
I’ve never known someone to be less disappointed in themselves just because they extracted some lessons. The pain is still there.
How to Move Forward From Failure
Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake. Sometimes a failure is a failure. We can serve ourselves better by laying off the labels, by being emotionally honest about what we feel.
Yes, disappointment is painful. But that pain can serve us. Failure is only a growth opportunity when we allow ourselves to feel the pain of it. That pain can fuel us.
Of course, it can also keep us stuck; holding on for fear of falling again. To use the pain without allowing it to keep you stuck requires something more: forgiveness.
The people we believe we disappointed almost always forgive us. Self-forgiveness is a bigger challenge. This is where the true growth opportunity lies.
You made a mistake. You failed.
Are there lessons to learn? Of course.
Can you forgive yourself?
That’s the invitation, and the practice.