How To ‘Fail’ Successfully

Why is failure one of our biggest fears? I think we can all agree that no one goes out there with an idea or a dream and thinks, “You know what? It would be really great if I’d fail because I’d really learn a lot from that. Boy, it would really help me out.” Of course, we all dread failure, but the truth is… there isn’t a single success story that I can think of, including my own, that doesn’t include life-altering adversity.

As a part of season 4 of my podcast, which is all about big dreams and goals, I’m talking about how we can fail ‘successfully.’ I talk more in depth about this in episode 042, so listen now if you’d like more details!

Today, I want to give you my top tips for combating your fear of failure and understanding that you can learn from it to when it happens (because it is bound to happen!)


Push & Stretch Your Comfort Zone

Pushing and stretching your comfort zone in little ways can reset your boundaries and help make you incrementally more comfortable with discomfort. Discomfort is what we feel when we go for these risks. We’ve all heard that quote that comes with redefining failure: the only true failure is the one you don’t learn from. The reason why it’s around is because it’s true. Really, it’s okay to fail because you can learn from this and grow. In Silicon Valley the saying is: fail fast, fail forward. That’s because if tech isn’t evolving and isn’t consistently taking risks, then it’s slowly dying.


Counter With Competence.

You have to accept that the world isn’t conspiring for your failure. Often, when you act with confidence, the world will conspire to support you. Remember the advice from last episode, Episode 41, to fake it until you become it? That applies here. You have to keep moving forward until suddenly you aren’t faking it anymore. You have become what you have been striving to be. But how do you fight failure? It’s the same as what I say with any goal: take incremental action.

Think of Mount Everest. It’s giant, stormy, it’s utterly inhospitable, not to mention the 50 degree below zero weather. And yet, a good handful of climbers summit every year. Not all of them are even professional climbers or athletes. A lot of them are hobbyists with a dream or a goal, but they all start that climb with a single step.

Those climbers on Everest spend incredible amounts of time and money preparing, a slim number of them actually make it to the summit and back. Sometimes it’s just the act of trying that counts. You have to be open to the idea that you might not achieve your goals. Instead, while you’re on the path for one goal, another goal might present itself and, in fact, be a better path to follow. So be open to change and opportunity and shifting your goals in some way if there’s a better path.


‘Get Good’ at Failure

You have to learn to embrace failure and get kind of good at it. When you fail, take a step back and apply what you’ve learned and reset and keep moving forward. No one else knows what’s right for you. There’s so much advice out there on the steps to take on your path, and so many sources that say: this is exactly what you have to do to be successful. But then you try them and they just don’t work for you. Listen to the parts that are true for you, and disregard what isn’t. You just need to navigate your path in your own way.


Stop the Negative Self-Talk

We’ve got to get rid of the negative self-talk when you do make a mistake. Focus on the positive that comes from the situation. Like the job you just lost? The one you didn’t even really like? Well, now you have the incentive to go find the job you really want. Reflect on what you learn, and that doesn’t mean to go back and nitpick every mistake. You can acknowledge that you’re strong enough to get back up when you fall down. But most of all, don’t sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Consistent action matters more than anything. Give yourself grace and realize that thinking and talking negatively about yourself won’t move you toward that goal or a new one you set.


What’s Next?

There’s one last thought I wanted to leave you with: Doing nothing is the true failure. Doing nothing means you’re definitely not going anywhere, whereas if you just try and take small steps, even if they’re not perfect, you’re still moving forward. That’s what I want for you in the pursuit of your big goals and dreams.

Keep moving forward. Don’t worry about failure, worry about whether you’re moving forward.

So now, I think it’s time for self-reflection and to ask yourself questions about how you deal with failure. Write these tips down in a notebook or your planner, and use them when you need a quick reminder that it’s OK to fail, and you can actually fail successfully.

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Tonya Dalton
Tonya Dalton