Find Out What Failing Means to You

From the book It’s Not My Fault by Henry Cloud and John Townsend:

Why doesn’t everyone who encounters failure pick himself up and try again? Why does one woman get rejected on a couple of dates then go on to find the love of her life, while another who gets rejected, quits? Why does one person make a sales call, get rejected, and later that month land the big account, while another gives up? The answer: one has normalized failure and learned how to deal with it, while the other has not. Let’s look at why and how.

Let’s explore a few questions to check your present thinking on what happens when you fail.

What do you feel when you fail? (In other words, when you are rejected for a date or do not close the deal or your venture goes belly up.)

Do you feel bad and get deflated? (Not mere disappointment, but a judgment about yourself that plunges you into immobilizing emotional states.)

Does all hope go out of you? (A feeling that things will never be any different.)

Do you tell yourself that you are a loser? (Internal dialogue leads you to pin a global, critical label on yourself.)

Do you think that success is for others and not you? (You feel you are missing something that others have.)

Do you think that there is just no answer for your dilemma? (It’s beyond anything you can learn or grow into, no matter how hard you try.)

Do you feel guilty? (A gnawing feeling that you should have been able to do this.)

Do you feel like it is all your fault? (An accusing, shaming, condemning feeling.)

Do you go into the “all bad” position? (Losing sight of your abilities, strengths, talents, aptitudes.)

Do you begin to hate God and think that he is not for you? (The feeling that God has let you down, or even has it in for you.)

Many people respond to failure in these ways because they interpret the failure to have a specific, harmful meaning. But as we have shown above, this is the wrong way to look at failure. The accurate meaning of failure is that it is a learning experience–a time to learn about ourselves, to learn the skills needed to master an endeavour we want to accomplish, or to learn more about the nature of the endeavour itself. But instead of seeing it as time to learn, many interpret failure in other ways that set them up to stop trying, as the list above shows. Usually, those negative interpretations come from our previous experiences. Failure has taken on bad meanings acquired from painful experiences in our families growing up or in other significant relationships.

The meanings that failure has for us come from our past experiences and relationships. They affect us in several significant categories: our view of others, our view of the world and how it works, and our view of God. When we go into new situations, we experience them through those grids, belief systems, emotional reactions and patterns of behavior that we have built through past experiences of failure or difficulty.

For example, if my experiences have made me feel like a loser, then I take that belief into new situations. If I fail in a new endeavor, I experience that new failure as confirmation of my negative belief about myself. “See, I knew it. I am a loser. I will never be able to make anything work. I’m just not capable.” Or, we might have a bad experience with a person, and it means to us that “people will always hurt me or let me down.” Or, “God is against me,” or “The world itself is just too hard to figure out. There is no real way to make things turn out well.”

These meanings become part of our makeup, and they live in our hearts, minds, and souls. They operate immediately and subconsciously, without our awareness that we are even following them. They cause us to live out patterns of behavior and choices that correspond to those particular meanings. We react defensively, protectively, aggressively, or withdraw from the game and quit trying. This happens because our life experiences have infused these meanings for failure into our character, and when we fail, they automatically kick in and take over. We lose our ability to choose and respond.

Look at your history of trying things in the areas where you feel stuck. Look at the areas that most depress you and in which you have stopped trying. Those are the places where it is most likely that you are operating by old messages and experiences. Figure out what those are. Listen to your thoughts and the voices in your head. Observe your feelings about those areas. You will learn the reason why you have given up or feel so negative about trying again. When you recognise where these old messages come from, you can reject them and break free of them. You can get support and validation from people on your team and rework the way you think and feel. But if you treat these old false messages as reality, then they will become reality. “I can’t ever win” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s Not My Fault by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.


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