How To Better Handle The Failures of Your Past, Present, and Future

This isn’t another post about how failure is good for you.

Because the truth is failure is only good for you if you learn how to handle it.

To do that, I’ve found six concepts helpful to think about in the wake of a failure. They make it easier to learn from, cope with, and bounce back from any failure.

1. If it fails, it means it wasn’t good enough. But it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough.

The easiest way to mishandle a project failure is to mistake it for a personal one.

When a project fails, it means the project wasn’t good enough to succeed. But it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough to succeed.

It’s important to separate the two and not abandon your confidence, motivation, and opportunity because your first attempt (or 50th attempt) wasn’t good enough to succeed.

All failure feels personal, but that doesn’t mean it is.

Walt Disney was fired because he was told he “lacked creativity.”

Steve Jobs was fired from Apple.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.

For The Interested wasn’t my first newsletter.

Never let a failure define what you’re capable of.

2. Your failure may be because you were too early…or too late.

The phrase “timing is everything” is cliche because it’s true.

The failure of our creations is often a result of their timing, not their quality.

Friendster was a social network launched years before Facebook, but failed in part because it launched at a time when people weren’t yet comfortable sharing their lives online. It was too early.

Launching a social network now to compete with Facebook is a nearly impossible task — it may be too late.

When you fail at something, consider the timing of your attempt — are you ahead of the curve? Are you behind it?

Then use that knowledge to influence your future work.

3. Was it a failure of expectations or execution?

It’s as easy to set yourself up to fail as it is to set yourself up to win.

Because failure is rarely a concrete, black-or-white result, it’s important to pull apart the layers and understand where you actually went wrong.

Did you fail because of your expectations?

Did you make assumptions about how a project would work or what an audience wanted that turned out to be untrue?

Or was it a failure of execution?

Did you fail to deliver something that lived up to its promise and your initial intentions?

These are two completely different types of failure and each can inform your future work in different ways.

If it was a failure of expectations, then take what you’ve learned about the market and adjust your product accordingly — or, at least be more thoughtful in how you set expectations moving forward.

If it was a failure of execution, then dig into exactly why your creation didn’t turn out as you intended and adapt.

4. There are successes to be found in every failure if you look for them.

Nothing is a total failure.

No matter how terrible something turns out, there are successes to be found in the rubble of your failure.

Every failure contains valuable lessons to be learned, experiences to take into your future work, relationships you otherwise wouldn’t have formed, and discoveries you otherwise wouldn’t have made.

A failure is only valuable if you look for the value in it, so don’t let your frustration and sorrow keep you from doing so.

5. Are you failing at the right things?

You will always have failures no matter how talented you are.

So it’s important to ask, are you failing at the right things?

In the aftermath of a failure, consider what you gained from it and if those things are pushing you toward a direction you want to go.

Did the lessons you learned get you closer to your goal? Did you go down in a blaze of glory pursuing something you truly love?

One of the main reasons people quit after a failure is because they failed at the wrong thing.

When you pursue things you’re truly passionate about and determined to do, it becomes much easier to handle failure.

6. Is your failure an end or a beginning?

You can’t control an outcome, but you can control your reaction to it.

Every failure creates an opportunity to control how you frame it in your life and work.

You can see the failure as the end of a journey and use it as an opportunity to shift direction and focus on a new pursuit.

Or, you can see it as the beginning of a journey — a first (and necessary) step toward what you want.

There’s no right or wrong option here.

It can be just as valuable to use a failure to end a chapter in your life or work as it is to use it as a beginning of one.

What matters most is you see failure as an opportunity to choose your direction and not just allow it to be something that happens to you.

BONUS: One more way to better handle failure…

One of the best ways to better handle failure is to learn from how others do it.

And I’ve got a secret weapon for you when it comes to that — my For The Interested newsletter.

Every Sunday I share 10 ideas (similar to the one you just read in this post) about how to get better at your life, work, and art.

It’s a cheat sheet to help you get what you want out of life.

Sign up below to check it out:

Image via Nathan Dumlao