Most of us have an inherent fear of failing. I include myself in this. Failing sucks. It’s no fun, it’s embarrassing, and far too many of us grew up hearing “If you don’t do $x, you’ll be a failure” (or various other permutations on the concept).
The truth is that, on the whole, failure isn’t a big deal. It’s actually one of the best ways that you learn. Sure, there are times that failure has lasting consequences, but most of the time it’s temporary.
You failed at something. Did anyone die? Come out of the deal with lasting injuries or disabilities? Face financial ruin as a consequence? If you answered “no” to these, then you’re fine.
I should note that I’m not making fun of the above situations nor am I exaggerating. I’ve been in several of them, so I can speak from experience. Thankfully everyone (so far at least) has survived. It’s part of the reason that my most common response to something going wrong is “If that’s the worst thing that happens today, I think we’ll be alright.”
Even after that, I still openly admit that I have issues embracing failure sometimes. There are ways that I’ve found helpful to not only deal with failure but with the fear of failure that too often keeps us from doing what we want or need to do. I’ll go over one of them here.
Let’s put our (potential) failure into perspective.
What happens 3 minutes after we fail?
We failed and feel like we’ve lost face. Someone may even be chastising us for whatever went wrong. It sucks. If it was at work and we still have a job, we have a couple of choices – fix what went wrong (if necessary) or go for a walk to clear our heads.
What happens 3 hours after we fail?
Those of us who deal with anxiety are probably still stewing over our failure a little bit, but that’s okay. It will pass. For most problems, we’ve already fixed the issue or moved on with our day. For some of the more severe stuff, we may still be dealing with consequences (needing to get our car repaired for instance) but for the most part, things are probably at least mostly back to normal.
What happens 3 days after we fail?
For most issues, pretty much everyone will have moved on. A lot of times, it might become a good-natured joke that we failed at something we thought was a big deal at the time, but in the end didn’t really matter.
What happens 3 weeks after we fail?
We’ve learned a lesson or two and the failure probably doesn’t matter past being a valuable learning experience. We may even have found a better way to do whatever it was that we failed at.
What happens 3 months after we fail?
With the exception of severe incidents, almost nobody is going to remember.
Are there instances where the above doesn’t hold true? Sure. This is especially the case in instances of severe injuries or the rare mistake that literally causes a business to fold (though the latter is almost always a series of mistakes and not some single issue).
For 90% of what we deal with on a regular basis, though, by the time the weekend comes around, nobody is going to care that you made a mistake. If you have a boss that harps on every failure you make, I’d suggest looking for a healthier place to be – I’ve worked in those environments and they can literally destroy your health.
So if you’ve failed, or you’re afraid that you will, take a step back and think of what the worst likely result is going to be at the above points in time. If the negative consequences don’t last more than a day or so, try not to worry too much and do what you feel like you need to do.
I realize that sometimes it’s easier said than done, but as the saying goes “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Mistakes are a part of life. Most of the people you view as successful have made more of them than you’d believe. Remember that you’re only seeing their highlight reel and don’t try to compare it to your day-to-day experiences.