Chances are, most of us have heard the popular quote “Failure is not an option.” A powerful tag line for the movie Apollo 13, it is meant to inspire hard work and diligence; showing us the tenacity and courage of those at mission control during a crisis. Many variations of the quote exist-all spouting the idea that if we work hard enough, want something bad enough and never give up-we can achieve our dreams.
For the most part, I firmly believe in this ideal. However, as with most things, it’s never good to blindly follow anything in every situation. There have been many times in my life when I have failed. Sometimes I got back up and tried and tried again and eventually succeeded. But other times, I simply failed. And that was ok.
We fail at different things for different reasons. The first time I realized it was ok to not succeed was my attempt to be on our local roller derby team back in Michigan. I love roller derby. I have since the first bout I ever watched. I was determined to get on the team and was encouraged by other team members to come to practices and train with them. I bought my skates, helmet and all the other gear necessary. I went to the roller rink on off days and tried to hone my skills. The practices were brutal. I tried my hardest to push through, but I just couldn’t do it. I started dreading practices and hating going to the roller rink. I started to realize I was pushing myself to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, simply because I didn’t want to fail. I was making myself miserable just so I could say I succeeded.
Eventually, I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture. When I did, it became clear that it was ok to “fail” in this venture. In reality, it wasn’t even a failure. I tried something new and learned more about the sport I loved. I pushed myself physically more than I thought was possible and found out what my limits were. The most important thing was I learned that just because I didn’t succeed, didn’t mean I was a failure.
So, yes, failure is always an option and it needs to remain a viable one. If we view failure as something to be avoided at all costs, we are less likely to try new things out of fear we won’t succeed. We can also trap ourselves in situations where we aren’t happy, just because we can’t allow ourselves to fail. Sometimes, we even see ourselves as failing just because we didn’t do something perfectly. We minimize our achievements just because we think we should have done it better. Our standards are so high, we can never be happy with what we’ve accomplished.
It is important to understand that this is not “lowering the bar” or letting ourselves settle for less than we are capable. It is, instead, understanding what we are capable of and accepting ourselves for who we are. That is not to say we can’t push ourselves or that what we’re capable of doesn’t change through our lifetime. It’s simply acknowledging there is no such thing as perfection and trying, and failing, is an important part of life.
So, how do we become comfortable with failure?
1. Recognize that failing at something does not make you a failure. We are not our outcomes. We are more than what we achieve or don’t achieve. I may have failed at being on a roller derby team, but I am successful in many other areas of my life. This one thing does not define my life.
2. It’s ok to just be okay. We don’t have to be perfect at everything we do. It’s ok to try your hardest and get a “C”. That does not equal failure-especially if you gave it your all. It’s normal to burn the cookies every now and then. Life is hard sometimes and it’s important to acknowledge that, instead of beating yourself.
3. Know the difference between letting something go and giving up. Yes, they’re essentially the same things, but one comes with a lot less negativity. If you think to yourself, “I gave up” it feels like you’ve been defeated. However, to say “I’m letting this go”, you are owning your decision to stop doing something that isn’t working. It isn’t admission of failure-it’s a recognition that you know something is no longer worth what you’re putting into it-whether it’s a job, a relationship or simply a hobby.
Does the fear of failure keep you from trying new things? Are you stuck never feeling good enough because you’re not “perfect”? A licensed mental health counselor can help change your perception and allow you to move forward. Contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Dr. Phillips at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced therapists.