How to Fail with Grace

Have you ever failed at something? I’m not talking about a test in school, but something in your life that you were invested in and had an intended outcome for? As you think about this, one of those famous quotes about failure might come to mind… the ones that say (something like): “There’s no such thing as failure only delayed success; or, only feedback.”

Those sound great, but I disagree.

We are human beings and we fail. We strive for things in life, things we want to happen, things we invest our heart and soul into, and then those things don’t work out. I call that failing. We can sugar coat it by translating it to “delayed success” or “feedback” but in the moment, it’s failure. And it feels awful.

I’ve failed at many things in life, both big and small. The big ones sting the most. Failed marriages, failed business ideas, failed friendships (to name a few.) For the most part I don’t like to admit failure. Who does? Instead, I resist. I push and pull and tug and throw so much energy into preventing the failure that I almost fool myself sometimes. I almost believe that if I keep trying hard enough I can make it work. I can keep it from failing.

But inevitably, despite all my forcing and struggling, there are those things in life that just aren’t meant to be. It doesn’t matter how hard we try, the square peg will not fit into the round hole. It’s usually my utter exhaustion that leads me to admit defeat. Perhaps you can relate? And by that time, it’s not pretty. I’m exhausted, angry, and frustrated. I’ve also learned there is a way to fail more gracefully. There’s a way to do it without beating myself up and beating myself into exhaustion. I’ve discovered a few key concepts on how to fail with grace:

Admit and acknowledge the facts.

This is not easy. It requires a bit of grit and feeling emotions you might not want to feel. Let’s take a failed marriage, for example. I’ve had two so I know a bit about this. There are always indicators and signs that a marriage is faltering that many people (me included) choose to ignore. Eventually the facts cannot lie. If only one person is invested in the relationship, if only one person is willing to go to marriage counseling, and/or if only one person is willing to make any effort to salvage the relationship, it becomes hard to deny the reality of the situation. Admitting and acknowledging the facts keeps you focused on the present moment reality. It’s much easier to know what actions to take when you are aware of and admitting to what’s occurring in the moment.

Accept where you are.

This too will require you to process some difficult emotions. Accepting that your relationship is ending or your business is failing (or whatever it is you’re experiencing) requires that you feel the emotions associated with the experience. Although it’s not easy, by doing this you release resistance. You stop pushing against what is happening, which allows things to begin to change.

Depersonalize it.

Marriages, friendships, and businesses fail all the time, as do many things in life. But that doesn’t mean that YOU are a failure. It might feel that way in the moment but it isn’t true. You may fail at a variety of attempts to do things in your life, which just aren’t meant to be. This doesn’t define who you are as a person. It may define the path you choose to take and how you live your life. It may define how you feel in those moments of realizing you must let go of something you have been very invested in, but YOU are much more than what you attempt to do and whether your attempt is successful or not.

After going through my second divorce I was firmly planted in the space of, “I am a failure at relationships.” That voice track in my head was not going to set me up to be successful in any future relationship. Eventually I rephrased it to, “I had two failed marriages.” This simple reframe shifted everything for me. Depersonalizing your failures also helps you learn from them, which is a sure way to set you up for future success.

Failing happens to all of us and will happen again, to all of us. The failure stings badly enough on its own, so why not try to fail more gracefully? When you do you save yourself from the extended suffering and stinging that’s created through resisting the reality that some things just aren’t meant to be.


This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post on March 14, 2017.

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