What better subject to start a new year than failure? As strange as it seems to me, that is what the energy around me has been suggesting, and who am I to argue? There has been something in the air, asking me to question old beliefs about failure, look for new definitions or seek out different perspectives. Failure is a complex thing. It is not as simple as some would suggest, ie, if you’re not a winner, then you’ve lost, or if you haven’t succeeded, then you’ve failed. There are so many things wrapped up in the process and concept of failure that give us feelings of trepidation or discomfort around the topic.

The concept of failure, as it stands now, so often has associations with someone or something outside of yourself. The idea that we may be disappointing someone else (or several someone elses) with our failure can cause us to do anything to avoid it, even if it means struggling against letting go of something that has long since expired. It is unrealistic to think you can avoid failure, unless you literally live under a rock and never try anything new. Why are we so frightened of it, sometimes even closely monitoring and controlling our actions to ensure that it can’t sneak in and catch us unawares?

Much of the fear comes from the idea that we are defined by something outside of ourselves, something like our job, our marriage, or our postal code, something that ties us to an external understanding of achievement or success. If we allow this to be defined by anyone other than ourselves, then we are constantly fighting against failure, because unless we then consistently perform to the same or even higher standards, we are in some way failing to meet someone’s expectations. It’s a vicious cycle.

How then do we make peace with this slippery concept?

Firstly, refuse to accept anyone else’s defintion of what success means for you (and by doing so, you are rejecting other definitions of failure). Think of the Olympic games, for instance, and some media portrayals of anything other than Gold medalists as the ‘losers’. If we accept this as true, then we are removing from the athletes the respect they deserve for the effort they put into their competition. It may not have been the athlete’s personal goal to come away with a medal, but instead to simply beat their own personal best, or to finish the race, or to even make it as far as the Olympics. If the athletes accept this as true, they may do themselves a disservice by pushing themselves too hard to only accept a Gold medal as a measure of success, and in the process cause themselves physical or emotional damage. Be clear about your intentions before you begin, be clear with what you’d like to achieve, and be clear about what constitutes success (or failure) in each situation.

Secondly, listen to your own heart as to whether it’s time to let go of something or change direction. For instance, if you feel resistance from every corner, chances are you’re trying to fit yourself into something that is discordant. Resistance is an indicator that you’ve touched a nerve somewhere, whether in yourself or others, and it’s telling you to look around and find out what needs to change. Releasing a situation that is not working allows for new and wonderful things to enter, but it can feel like failure from another perspective. There are all kinds of slogans which advise us that ‘winners aren’t quitters,’ and ‘you can’t win if you don’t play,’ but there is also something to knowing when it’s time to surrender and take a different path. If you have been through the process of getting clear with yourself, giving up will not feel like failure to you, though it still might to others.

Thirdly, if it feels good, that’s your answer. We are all influenced by the expectations or beliefs of others to a certain degree, which does make walking away from things more difficult, but if it feels like the right thing to do, then it is. It’s that simple. No matter what anyone else would want for you, or whether you think you’re doing someone else a disservice by leaving, you’re doing yourself more of a disservice by staying in a situation that is not working for you. Is that failure? It depends on who you’re allowing to define it. How many people have stayed in unhappy relationships because there were children involved, or the wedding cost a lot, or they were concerned that people would think they hadn’t tried hard enough to ‘fix’ it? All of these things assume that you are in some way defined by the situation you’re in, and until and unless you walk away from it, you can’t realise that is NOT true. It is natural to form attachments to people and things, but they are not the sum of who and what we are.

Fourthly, ask yourself if you have gotten what you wanted or needed from the situation. Perhaps the real failure lies in shaming ourselves for giving up so much, that we miss the lessons that the situation presents to us. If we choose not to finish a race we’ve entered, for instance, have we necessarily failed? Perhaps in that decision we’ve learned so much about ourselves (how many hours actually constitute a good night’s sleep, or what not to eat before a race) that it will contribute huge knowledge to our understanding and performance the next time. How do you know that the person you met as you walked the last few kilometres is not the love of your life? The race may have just been a reason for you to be somewhere at a certain time. This is where the feeling of peace really starts to take root. Oh yeah, there’s good stuff associated with failure, as well as bad.

Finally, allow others the respect of affording them the same freedoms. Allow everyone to define success on their own terms, allow them to listen to their hearts, allow them to feel good about walking away, even if you feel bad, and allow them to find the lessons for themselves. All of us will find different things even within the same situations. And always keep in mind that our personal definitions of failure are so varied that what for you constitutes a major success could for someone else be the definition of ultimate failure (and vice versa).

If we can learn to redefine failure, to reframe it in a whole new light, we can also learn to fear it less. There’s no shame in it, nor any reason to avoid it. It is a part of growing into who you are, and who you are becoming. In fact, if you’re not ‘failing,’ you’re not really Living.

About Jenny:

Jenny Griffin, the ‘Catharsis Coach,’ is passionate about helping you to find the beauty, power and possibility in the midst of transformative experiences. She combines her skills as an intuitive coach and healer with her amazing organisational abilities to provide an environment filled with creative and enjoyable ways to move towards your own unique vision for your life, and offers you the opportunity to use all the parts of your story as fodder for personal and spiritual growth.

You can find Jenny at The Power of Change

or on Facebook

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Comment by Jenny Griffin on January 12, 2013 at 3:28am

Thanks so much, Dawn!

Comment by Jenny Griffin on December 31, 2012 at 3:15pm

Thanks so much, Kathleen. It really does seem to be such a point of focus that it stops people from even attempting. I reckon we're here to enjoy and live richly through many different experiences. Perception is key!

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