Successful Failure: how to forgive and grow

We all make mistakes – we’re human. But your character isn’t defined by the mistakes and failures in your life. The million-dollar question is how do you respond to failure?

What does a healthy reaction and response feel like and look like for you?

One of my best life lessons over the past ten years is the quality of the questions I ask myself. Am I being resourceful or are my questions used to beat myself up? Can I notice the gifts within the failure and be grateful for the opportunity to learn more about myself and life?

Effects of failure and making mistakes

Consider how you were treated as a child if you failed or made a mistake. Were you railed at for being incompetent or unobservant? Did you get blasted for failing to think through the consequences of your actions?

And further ahead in life, what was the effect of making a mistake in high school or college? How did you learn to respond? Were failures never discussed?

When we grow up in an environment – whether cultural, community or family – where failure is not an option, in a way, our growth gets stunted. Can you envision failure as the beginning of something wonderful, rather than a horrible ending?

Remember a time when you realised how badly you had failed or made a terrible mistake, in the first five seconds of your realisation – what were your first thoughts and emotions? Even learning to change that response to forgiveness and growth can lead to more success.

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Helping and harmful responses to mistakes and failure

I’ve been in corporate culture long enough to know that the first response to a mistake or failure is owning it, rather than playing the blame game. It’s one of the hardest choices you will make in life – to say “this is my mistake”, even if there are other people and factors involved.

You can’t change what is you don’t own.

Until you own the mistake and the role you played in the series of events that lead to the catastrophe, you will never have the opportunity to make any significant change. If I ever said “it wasn’t me” or “there was nothing I could do”, I missed an opportunity to learn from my mistakes.

The first step to success is embracing the mistake as our own.

And the second step is to turn off the lies in our head. Ever notice how that inner critic really does a number on you?

You will never be successful… you are a failure… you aren’t good enough…

Do yourself a huge favour. Just hit the off switch.

Failure and mistakes will impact your thoughts and feelings. How you then face and handle those thoughts and feelings is essential.

Separating who I am from my actions

I am not a failure. I simply failed.

Separating your identity “this is who I am” from your actions “this is the series of decisions that I made that brought me to this place” is essential if you want to learn from the mistake.

Owning and accepting the mistake is essential “this is mine” – but if we identify ourselves as being the failure, we cannot separate from it and move on! We get stuck in “who will I be if I leave this behind?”.

It’s so easy to allow ourselves to think we are the failure – but when we take it on as our identity rather than as a choice or action, it makes the next steps of learning to be successful almost impossible.

Accepting your mistake so you can move on

It’s impossible to live life without ever making a mistake – “at all costs” – otherwise, we get nothing done. The sooner we start accepting that we cannot be perfect at all times, the easier it is to move through life and get things done.

well, well, well... if it isn't the consequences of my actions

Part of owning your mistake is accepting the natural consequences of it – the outcomes, even unexpected. My natural response, in the face of unexpected consequences, is to try to disown them.

I’ve learned the hard way that blaming another person or the circumstances, I give away all my power!

I am not helpless.

If I got myself in this mess – I can get myself out of it too! It’s not to say it won’t be painful, but the growth will be worth it.

Making peace with my mistakes

It’s time to stop playing the victim and become the one who chooses how they respond when they are knocked down. Letting go of the past allows you to look at what is possible in the present moment. What will you work towards in the future?

After being honest, accepting full responsibility for my role in the situation and the choices, I can stop making excuses or trying to place the blame. This allows me to start looking at “how can mitigate the consequences or fix this?”.

Being honest allows so much more than this as well.

  • You can look at what really went wrong – where was the misstep or the decision (series of decisions) that brought to this place.
  • When did you notice the little voice of gut instinct that said “not this way” and choose to ignore it? What were you listening to at the time?
  • In what ways did you fail to get more information or ask for help?
  • Who might you have asked for help and at which moment?

Other lies that you can avoid when you are honest with yourself are:

  • My goal is unobtainable. Really? Not true. Did you have a plan and did you follow the plan? Where did you get off track? What would you need to do in order for this goal to be obtainable? You simply made a mistake or failed in this attempt. That does not mean that the goal is unobtainable.
  • I am useless and have no skills. Lies! The lies that you tell yourself to avoid failure in the future because it hurts to fail. But it’s not actually true. You have skills and abilities. You simply made a mistake that you need to learn from.

After any failure or mistake, it’s very important to go through this phase of being honest with yourself, so that you reach a place of being at peace. Trust yourself once again.

Successfully letting go, forgiveness brings joy

Forgiveness brings joy

The crucial element in overcoming your failure is forgiveness of self. I’m not talking about just saying you forgive yourself or going through the motions. I’m asking you to dig deep – sitting with the thoughts and feelings that have come up, acknowledging them, and then releasing them.

Those thoughts and feelings may be:

  • unworthy
  • useless
  • stupid

Allow yourself to go into the feeling. Surface forgiveness will not clear it out of your body and system.

Anger and resentment are heavy loads, especially when you are aiming them at yourself. When you are recriminating and blaming yourself for something you did, take a moment and a breath. In that space, choose to forgive. Forgive yourself so that you can reconnect with yourself on the same level that you messed up.

God may forgive your sins, but your nervous system won’t.

Alfred Korzybski

We hold onto our emotions within our body, with all that we have experienced. And our experience of forgiveness needs to be as strong as our experience of the event itself, in order to move the emotions. It’s no good to try to do surface forgiveness, expecting it to work on a deep emotion.

Dive deep into forgiveness.

How you respond to your mistakes is possible the most important life lesson you will ever learn. What have you learnt from your mistakes in life so far? How have these lessons helped you along life’s journey?

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  1. It didn’t matter if I made mistakes as a kid or not, my mum was oblivious to me and my needs.

    As for forgiveness, I’m not sure if I have forgiven myself for my past or not, how are you meant to be able to tell?

      • What would it feel like to give yourself a pass? Say… For one day I will hold off judging myself?
        Than maybe try for a week. And should you find yourself judging yourself, not judge yourself for being judgemental. Lol. Understand it’s a learning process.

      • so… everyone’s voice has now become “your voice”… what work have you done (and I know you’ve done a TON of work) to peel away all those voices and critics… and just be left with the tiny little voice – the whisper – of the little child inside that loves you without judgement?

        Could you… for one day… just listen to that little voice?
        I know the others are louder. Harsher. Insistent that they are right.
        But could you possibly listen to the whisper?

      • I’ve never had a nonjudgmental inner voice, unfortunately. I’ve always been like this since my earliest memories from around the age of 4

      • I can understand never having heard it… because typically it is so… so… quiet. And if you are used to the inner critic, it’s almost imperceptible and impossible to hear.

        I’ve had to do so much work and I still have so much more to do… but every once in while I get the joy of silence… and then it’s worth all the hard work!

        One day I took 2-3 hours and wrote down EVERYTHING my critic said about me… like everything… until the critic got pissed off and shut up! most blissful few minutes of my life!

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