Emotions are tricky, but they get even trickier after a failure. Very often you may not even notice that something is wrong. You may think that it’s reasonable to feel this way and fail after all. Until one day you will wake up broken, incapable of pushing yourself through the day.
Some people can just get over it. They were lucky enough to go through life untraumatized by their parents, teachers, peers. They have a healthy self-esteem and a positive outlook on life. They are rare unicorns, and we all wish we were them.
You will be surprised, but most successful people are not unicorns. They did not have it better than you. Some of them might have actually had it much worse. They just learned to cope. Some ignored the pain and persevered despite the voice in their head telling them to stop. Some healed. Yeah, even such miracles do happen.
You cannot even fathom how many times I felt bitter and envious of those seemingly unharmed and eternally successful people. I would do my essay, but then I would just burst into tears, thinking about how meaningless my work is. Because I used to think I would never join their cohorts. Because I failed once.
I developed learned helplessness and complete indifference to life because, as I thought, nothing would ever work out for me.
I would ask myself why I even live if I can’t pursue my dreams. And I couldn’t allow myself to dream again because I failed. In my head this rendered my dreams impossible.
And it all seemed reasonable to me. Aren’t you supposed to learn from your mistakes after all? I did not want to impose my negativity on anyone, so I did not share. Even after I submerged into deep depression, it did not scream red flag to me. Until one day I just had enough. So, I began my fight.
A Bit on the Baggage
Everybody carries emotional baggage. Some fill it with sweet memories of the past. Some throw in the insecurities of the future. I filled it with pain and regret, and it got so heavy that it paralyzed me.
I could try again… technically. But in reality, I locked my own hands in shackles and threw away the key. I did it out of my own volition. There was a pressure from the outside, but I did not have to succumb to it.
So, why did this scenario unfold? Why out of a billion possible paths I took the one of the least benefit to me? Why did I choose to stop when the road was not even closed? The answer to these questions can be found in the wonderful study of human psychology.
Failure is a like a woodworm which digs a hole through your morale and infests your heart. I did not feel strong and capable anymore. I did not believe I had the ability to attain my goal in the first place. I thought I should have never even tried.
Paradoxically, failure made me even more fixated on that goal than I ever was when I believed that I still stood a chance. I hated people who reached similar goals. I viewed them as semi-gods and that goal as an ultimate happiness that could never be mine because I was not worthy.
So, I was not motivated to try again. If I failed once, obviously, it meant that I would fail over and over again. I mean, it’s how it works, right? I felt devastated inside. The fear of more pain and the lack of belief in myself kept me from being an admirable example of strength and perseverance.
The fear got under my skin and infiltrated every nook and cranny of my body. It blocked my cognitive ability to find solutions to problems as my neurons were huddling together in bewilderment.
I took a risk, and it did not pay off. That’s what I thought. In reality, I took no risks. I just followed the path which at that time looked the best to me. But my soul did not want to be plagued anymore. It wanted to protect itself from any emotional tremors, so it disallowed my brain to be creative in seeking solutions.
I obstinately refused to even try to look for alternative ways of achieving my goal. I failed, and that meant I was not smart, or luck, or rich enough – pick whatever excuse you like best. I picked them all. The feelings of helplessness and futility started to define my life.
How Did I Make It Stop?
I don’t think there is a single formula for getting over a failure. We all are complex individuals with our unique personalities formed by a genetic code and social interactions. What worked for me might not work for you. But I do hope it will.
It all began with recognizing the problem. Despite the fact that I experienced it daily on my skin, it was still difficult to look in its face and acknowledge it. It’s always easier to follow the tide of life on the surface rather than try to dive deeper into it.
Then I started to make excuses. I don’t know about you, but I was brought up in a rather strict manner. I have always been taught to take responsibility for my actions and not to look for excuses. And while it sounds like good advice in theory, in practice it leads to a wide array of self-punitive responses.
So, I started to look for other reasons why I might have failed – the reasons not related to my personal and professional qualities. Although it does sound like an easy way out, it helped me shift focus from being negative about myself to viewing myself as a part of a bigger picture.
Afterwards I took a pen and paper and wrote down all the qualities I believed made me a good person and professional. This reminded me of how much I’d already accomplished, and it made that failure look small in comparison.
Despite the progress, the hardest task was lying ahead: the everyday fight against and for myself. I was forcing myself to argue with the nasty little voice in my head telling me I was no good. It kept reminding me of the failure, and I kept telling it to shut up, until it finally did.
I started to live again. Living without dreams, ambitions, and desires may sound like a Buddhist paradise, but it’s a human hell. Once I got back my old forever-aspiring and never-settling self, I felt like I got awoken after a years-long nightmare. I would still have some sad days, but I knew I had the strength to raise to their challenges.
Finally, I surrounded myself with people who believed in me more than I ever did in myself. After the failure I put myself into a voluntary isolation as I did not want to impose my feelings on anyone. Plus, some of my friends were really successful at that time, and I felt I was not worthy of their company. Now I know that isolation was probably the biggest mistake I made in my post-failure recovery.
Whatever happens, remember: failure does not destroy your dream, it just hampers your ability to pursue it. Your dream it still inside you, you just need to repair yourself before you can fight for it again.
It’s a gradual process, so brace yourself for long debates with your friends, who think the world of you, and with your own self, who is definitely not your friend at this time. One day you will have enough strength to risk it again.