So You Failed. Now What?

Confront your failures. But don’t join the cult of failure.

Lesson 1. Make sure you’re doing what you want.

Once upon a time, I tried to write a fantasy novel. Just one problem. Although I like a handful of fantasy writers, it’s not my genre. So I was kidding myself the whole time.

Lesson 2. Stop trying to replicate a past success.

If only you could perform exactly the way you did last week. Or make a video just like the one that went viral a month ago. Nothing kills creativity and spontaneity like trying to repeat yourself.

Lesson 3. Stop rushing to the finish line.

This problem befalls almost everyone. We’re so desperate for affirmation, we speed through our work. We can’t wait to show everyone what we’re capable of. But that lights a paradox.

Lesson 4. Stop tweaking things to death.

Just one more draft. One more brush stroke. Let’s add another sound effect to that podcast. If you love something too much, you’re afraid to send it out into the world. So you keep refining.

Lesson 5. Stop trying to show off.

This mistake kills anyone on the job market. You start thinking about how to impress the search committee. Instead of presenting your best self, you debut an alternate version you think they want to see.

Lesson 6. Try not to psyche yourself out.

This one’s something I learned from playing cello in high school. We put huge amounts of pressure on ourselves before any kind of performance. We can’t just do well enough. We need things to be perfect.

Lesson 7. Start visualizing failure.

Everyone tells you to visualize your success. Sure, it can’t hurt. But maybe think about visualizing failures, too. Run through the things that could go wrong during any kind of performance.

Lesson 8. Forgive yourself in advance.

You’re going to screw up. And it might cost you a job. Or a publication. It’s fine. Every failure comes with a small lesson for next time.

Lesson 9. See everything as an experiment.

Sometimes the universe just pisses on you. But usually, failures happen for a reason. You broke the wrong rule. Didn’t follow the right principle. Missed a small opportunity somewhere.

Lesson 10. Remember your original purpose.

We often forget — in the rush for success — what we were actually trying to achieve in the first place. In the wake of failure, it’s worth stopping to try and recover your original intent.

Lesson 11. Define what failure means.

Your video didn’t go viral. Shit. But it got 400 views. You lost the race. But you set a new personal record. You made it a little further through “Stairway to Heaven” without murdering the chords. But you still haven’t mastered the song. Are these really failures?

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