- Lack of success. “an economic policy that is doomed to failure”
2. The neglect or omission of expected or required action. “their failure to comply with the basic rules”
What is Failure?
Failure is defined by not achieving desired results. This means that when we set out to do something for a specific reason and are unsuccessful in that mission it could, if we were so inclined, be regarded as a failure.
But failure and success are very binary things. They are black and while. Right and wrong. When experiences are defined by either failures or successes we miss out a whole bunch of important grey area that makes up the fruit of our lives.
When we set out to achieve a specific single result we are closing ourselves off to the myriad of lessons we can learn by simply engaging in the exercise of taking a chance and having a go. So too, having a rigid image of success can big on a fear of failure which makes it very hard for us to commit to starting anything.
There are always things in life that don’t go as planned.
Every Event that Does Not Go as Planned is a Learning Experience
When I was younger family friends of ours bought a restaurant. They were so excited to start something new and fun and their energy was alive with the magic of a new project. They were eager to make big money and live the life.
A few weeks into the restaurant business they had changed. They seemed stressed and tired and short with their kids. They complained about the early mornings and the stress of the impending lease payments. They were not happy.
Not surprisingly a few months later they were forced to close the restaurant. They hadn’t made enough to pay the lease. They were devastated. In their eyes they had failed. They had wanted to make big money and they hadn’t. They had lost money. The restaurant was something they never wanted to think about again.
Does it Make you Happy?
The thing that was so blatantly obvious to me was that they had learned pretty early on that the restaurant business was not making them happy. It wasn’t what they’d thought it would be and they really didn’t enjoy it. Sure they lost the business and endured plenty of stress but they learned that they didn’t enjoy the restaurant business! So that, in itself is a win.
They could now cross Running a Restaurant off the list of things to try in life, now enlightened with the knowledge that they really didn’t enjoy it.
Why are we so quick to judge ourself as failed or succeeded? Why do we shun memories of things that didn’t go as planned instead of finding a way to use our “failures” as wins?
Learning from my Own Failure
Just before my nineteenth birthday my best friend Mariana moved to Wellington. It was exciting. I’d moved to Wellington from Hamilton four years earlier and we’d kept in regular contact – on the phone or in person when one of us would make the 10 hour journey to stay with the other in the holidays.
We quickly decided that we would go flatting together. Mariana was enrolled to go to University and I was all set to start drama school. Mariana’s starry-eyed boyfriend (now husband) had decided to make the move with her so we had three flatmates. Two more (friends of his) quickly appeared and we were ready to roll!
After spending a few hungover Sundays partaking in Competitive Flat Hunting, we finally won out and signed the lease on a place not too far from the city. Mariana and the boyf. would share the large bedroom downstairs and the other three of us would take a room upstairs. I got the second biggest room.
Flatting = The Coolest Thing Ever!
All throughout our teenage years we had dreamt of flatting. We’d lay on my bed smoking cigarettes chatting about how cool it would be when we could finally move out and be free over our parents’ rules and expectations.
“You’ll have to cook,” Mariana would say. “I don’t really cook. I can but I don’t.
“I can cook,” I reply. “You can make the tea.”
“I make really good tea. And give good shoulder massages.”
“You do,” I agreed. “You have tiny mighty hands.”
The thing is flatting in New Zealand is kind of a rite of passage. When you finish High School and are about to go off to Uni it’s just common place to go flatting. A cliche that has been glamorised buy a bunch of Kiwi films like Scarfies (oddly a horror) and reality T.V shows like Flatmates and Big Brother. It was cool to go flatting. Flatting meant you could be your true self and party every night. It meant you were never alone and always had fun exciting people in you house. It meant you could do bucket bongs in the lounge and eat chocolate cake for breakfast!
I would have the best time. I would make my room look awesome. I’d cover the walls in foil like Andy Warhol did in the Factory and fabulous people would engage with me in midnight conversations. I would love it!
Or so I thought.
Learning About Who I Am
I am an only child. Up until the day I went flatting I had never had to share a bathroom with anyone. I had never had to fight over the T.V with anyone (other than my Dad) and I had never had to share a bedroom either. People always say that only-children are spoiled rotten. It may be true that they get more than kids with siblings but what is true is that they are definitely spoiled with solitude.
Except in my case solitude did not spoil me at all. As a highly sensitive introvert, having regular solitude nurtured me. It allowed me to dream, to read, to paint and recharge. Of course at the time I didn’t realise how much I needed this time and just how great it was for me. I yearned to live in a home with action! With comings-and-goings, with noise and drama.
My Dream Vs My Reality
At first flatting was great! We threw a dress-up party for our flat-warming party and ordered a keg of beer. Mariana and I decorated the house with bizarre pictures we cut from old copies National Geographic. We played flat games of Gin Rummy and smoked inside.
But slowly things became not so fun.
Ash trays over-flowed with cigarette butts. The smoky air burned my eyes. The stench of it wafted all throughout the house and stained my clothes and bedding with a sour tang. We’d decided to chip in for food all together but it soon turned out that $100 between five did not go far. I craved a decent home cooked meal. The shower grew impressive mould and the toilet was feral. But the most distressing and the most surprising issues of all was: There were always people around!
All my life I’d been sure that being in a flat full of people would be awesome. I had dreamed of this, so why did I feel so miserable? How did living in a house full of people make me feel so lonely?
Partying Every Night Was Not Me
On top of all this was the fact that I was required to be at school every morning by 830am. If there was a party raging in our flat all night long I couldn’t sleep. If I couldn’t sleep it was unlikely I would get up on time to make the bus, or have the focus to do my best in class.
I was also paying good money on rent. Money I could use on other things if I just moved home and lived rent free with my parents. My parents’ house was the same distance from the city but just in the other direction.
After much persistence I decided to move home.
Failing at Flatting
I felt like a failure. I felt like a was too weak to handle the real world and had to run home to mummy and daddy. Why hadn’t I enjoyed it? I was so sure the flatting would be the best, most fun thing I’d ever done. What was wrong with me!?
I allowed this situation to form into my mind as a failure.
I let myself believe that I had failed at flatting, thus failing to see that instead this had been a major learning opportunity for me!
Learning from It
It wasn’t until much later that I realised that the Universe had been trying to tell me that I was an introvert and that this kind of environment was never going to suit my needs. The fact that I figured that out and decided to move home was actually a huge win. I had not only learned what did not work for me but I had been brave enough to try and then decide it wasn’t right, then make a step to improve my position.
This and many other situations can easily be viewed as failures. If you assess that you did not quite do or achieve what you had intended to when you began you could well decide it is a failure. But what if you learned something else? Something truly insightful about yourself that then allowed to live a more authentic life? Would that not be considered a triumph?
Seek the Gain other that the Lack
At any time we have not achieved what we intended we may find ourself only seeking out the lack in the situation. But why not try and seek out the gains?
I believe that every challenging situation in our lives in The Universe’s way of getting us to learn something about ourselves. Gabrielle Bernstein calls this a Spiritual Assignment. When things don’t go as planned it is the Universe guiding us toward learning something new about the world but mostly about ourselves! The important thing is that if we do not learn the lesson The Universe will keep providing us with similar situations until we do!
I learned from flatting that I did not necessarily like living in home with comings-and-goings after all. I also learned just how important having my own space was to me and that if I don’t sleep and eat well I am not at my best.
What Have You Deemed a Failure?
What recent situation have allowed yourself to colour as a failure? Grab a pen and a piece of paper and write it down. It can be anything. Maybe you decided not to go to the gym today and then felt bad about it. Maybe you burned the carrot cake you were baking. Maybe an article you submitted to a publication was rejected. What ever it is, write it down.
How can you instead see that situation as a successful learning experience?
Write down any positive learning experience you can take away from this situation. Perhaps you learned that you were really too tired to bake the cake and would have been best served to take some time to relax. Perhaps you didn’t realise that using gluten free flour would make the cake cook so fast – but now you know, you won’t make that mistake again.
If you didn’t go to the gym perhaps you just didn’t want to but did you spend the time joyfully or were you grumpy for not going? In which case you learned that simply going to the gym makes you feel like you’ve achieved something, which in itself improves your mood. Maybe you’ve also learned that you tend to scold yourself a lot which is not a great way to show yourself love. This could be something you focus on next time in meditation.
So your article got rejected from one publication. Congratulations! You have now learned what kind of articles that particular publication does not accept. And from listening to your inner self talk you’ve also learned that outside approval and disapproval has a huge bearing on your self esteem.
The Only True Failure is a Failure to Embrace Learning
When we become so focused on setting goals and making perfect plans, we close ourselves off from the creative process – the state of flow that comes from exploring through doing instead of planning every move. When we become so set in stone about what we want to achieve we can become off-set very quickly when things don’t go as planned.
We need to be flexible in order to move with the changes, to think outside the box and find creative solutions to road blocks.
When we are afraid of failing we will often become to afraid to even try. And if we become to emotionally attached to the possibility of failing, we are less likely to be open to any helpful feedback we might receive from others.
Learning how to use our failure means learning how to learn from it.