Failure is a reality that no one likes and one that many try to avoid at all costs. Yet, despite our efforts, failure is something with which we are all familiar, since it is closely woven into our existence as humans. Everyone has experienced it to varying degrees from the frustration of missing a new PR attempt to the deep pain of a failed relationship or rejection. This second category of setbacks is what this article is concerned with: those that can bring us to our knees without knowing where to go or what to do. Despite the associated sorrow, these failures can instill resilience and maturity and refine our perspective of life. This point will be demonstrated firstly by discussing what failure is, secondly by discussing how we can truly grow in self-knowledge through the experience, and finally by illustrating how we ought to go forward with the lessons learned from the adversity.
So what exactly is failure? According to Webster’s dictionary, failure is the omission of an occurrence or performance. In other words, it’s when we are unsuccessful in accomplishing a goal. All of us know what this is, at least to a certain extent. Yet, the failures that strike at our core are often the ones we don’t want to think about or share with others. Often times these disappointments are too painful, and we deal with the pain by ignoring it or trying to press it down so others will not sense it. Unlike the more superficial setbacks, we often associate the graver disappointments with our identity. In fact, the more painful the disappointment, the more likely we are to attribute it to a weakness or flaw in our identity. This can seem to be devastating and not worth the pain to address it since it reveals our vulnerability. Even if we do try to answer the question why we failed, the answer is often evasive.
When we “hit rock bottom,” we are likely to question a great many things and to doubt ourselves. At this point in the experience, we have a great opportunity to truly get to know ourselves if we are just willing to journey through the sorrow until the end. This requires an openness to embrace the experience. By being open, we are humble enough to see reality and to eventually heal. So many of us carry false perceptions of ourselves. These are either a result of what we have been told about ourselves from others or a result of our own jaded view of ourselves. Failure has a keen way of stripping these views away, and showing that we are not all we want to be. True acceptance is intimidating and it requires courage to face the pain.
Facing the adversity is, of course, not the end but a step to growing from the experience. Through this we seek answers to why it happened not only to lessen the pain but also to know how to move on. Ironically, the difficult failures usually don’t give us a clear or quick answer as to why they happened and the person attempting to learn from the experience may feel dismayed by the lack of clarity of the situation. At first, all the person may feel is heartbreak. So what lessons can we attain? Instead of looking for an answer that will solve everything, focus on the experience itself. Life is full of disappointments that do not have answers. Therefore, the experience itself is the key to the way forward. The journey through the failure teaches us maturity, wisdom and resilience. These merits are not recognizable at first, but with time we can look back at the disappointment and hopefully be thankful it happened, not because we are gluttons for sorrow, but rather because of the strengthening of our character. We will not always see these changes in black and white and with perfect clarity, but we will know that there is something different about us. So long as we are open to journey through the sorrow, no failure is ever wasted.
The intent of discussing the topic of failure is to show the necessity of dealing with disappointment and to suggest that the way forward is through acceptance. We may never find the answers we want, but the resilience and maturity gained from the experience provide a valuable lesson. Life would be much easier if we could gain these virtues without suffering, but who would we be today without failure? As Theodore Roosevelt said, he who strives and fails will “never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Failure does not define us; it molds us.
-by Joseph Rohan