It is a habit of mine to push myself beyond my limits to see what I am capable of. I want to see where my potential is and I want to go as far as I can go. That means that I grow a lot, but also it means that I fail a lot. As a coach I often talk about my successes as it helps build credibility with clients. But it’s really through my failures that I learned the most. Here is what I’ve realised about loving myself through failure.
Give up or get up
Loving myself is the hardest when I fail. I start to beat myself up internally, wondering where I went wrong. I start thinking I’m not good enough or that I am not worthy of love and affection. I abandon myself when I fail and stop being there for me.
Ironically, when we fail is when we need ourselves the most. Because it is then that we face a critical decision: to get up and fight again, or to give up.
Sometimes loving myself simply means having the courage to try one more time. Sometimes loving myself is believing in myself despite the fears and the doubts.
If you are facing failure too, here is what I’ve learned about bouncing back from failure.
Bouncing back with love
If we failed it means that we’ve tried for something. We made a decision to go beyond our comfort zones to venture into the unknown. We decided to try because there was something more important to us than the possibility of failure.
1. Let the dream guide you
One of the biggest failures of my life was when I failed my coaching exam. I failed not just one coaching exam, not two coaching exams, but three coaching exams. Yet I really wanted to be a coach. Even though I was sad each time I failed, I never gave up on my dream of becoming a coach. Today I am a coach and I am growing and learning at a faster pace than I thought was possible. I am having good results with my clients as well.
So when you fail, remind yourself why you started in the first place. What was the dream?
I still have dreams and I still struggle. My dream now is to become a writer and personal development blogger. There are days when I feel down, where I don’t feel creative, where I feel that my words mean nothing. But the dream still lives inside me, and I know won’t give up.
2. Be willing to start again from nothing
From being a straight A student and investment banker, I had returned home to Singapore from New York without a job and with no clue what I wanted to do with my life. This was a monumental failure in my life. My entire belief system about who I was and what success meant to me had crumbled. Every decision I made in my life up til then seemed wrong. I truly had nothing.
But I didn’t let that stop me. I went to Cambodia to volunteer for 6 months. I worked at an NGO for a tiny fraction of what I made as an investment banker. From being a well-regarded, highly-paid financial analyst, I went back down to an executive at a small NGO. Then I started coaching. From knowing what the hell I was doing, to knowing nothing and learning a totally new skill.
It is very difficult to let go of what we believe ourselves to be. But failure gives us the chance to let go and to discover who we truly are. I realised I was not my titles or my results or my school or my salary. I was so much more.
3. Appreciate and acknowledge your efforts
I’ll assume here that we failed not because of the lack of effort and hard work, but simply because we made mistakes and we faced challenges larger than ourselves. I’ll assume that we did our level best and still didn’t make it.
Then it’s time to appreciate and acknowledge ourselves for the effort we put in, and gather the lessons we’ve learned from the failure. When I fail my instinct is to deny and belittle everything I did, to tell myself none of that counted for anything, to dismiss my efforts. But the truth is that I did give myself to the process and I did put in my best.
For example, two months ago I was leading a team to complete a volunteering assignment. Even though I failed the assignment, I acknowledge myself for the care and effort I had put in, which despite our failure, my team members felt inspired by me and achieved breakthroughs and results in their personal lives. I learned that my love and care is what inspires people and even though I hardly value that in myself, that is what people feel and respond to. I am still learning to embrace the soft side of me.
4. Just get through it
There was a period in my life where I questioned all the decisions I made, feeling that every step I had taken in my life was the wrong step. My choice of a business major wasn’t my passion. My choice of career in finance didn’t pan out. I was failing and struggling as a newbie coach. My trust in myself was at an all time low. I was almost paralysed, unable to make anymore decisions because nothing I decided had turned out well.
But I realised that I could either look behind, bemoaning every mistake I made, or look ahead to where I wanted to go. So I kept going and kept making difficult and courageous decisions. I decided to hang on and keep doing what I felt was right at the time. I kept working to improve myself through personal development courses. I practiced my coaching skills.
Eventually clarity dawned and the fog lifted. I knew I had to make this journey to discover and find myself. I realised that going through that was just a transition phase as I moved from a meaningless life to a fulfilling life. And that as long as I kept making decisions based on courage and love, I would eventually turn out okay.
Failure really isn’t so bad
The truth is, failure itself isn’t so bad. It’s what we attach to failure that destroys us. Do we take failure to mean that we’re not good enough? That we’re not worthy of love? Or that we don’t deserve what we want?
But failure really is just failure. It just means we tried for something more. It just means that we had the courage to begin in the first place. And somewhere within us, we can find that courage to begin again.