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Finding Empowerment Through Failure

Natalie recently shared with me that she had taken a college course around changing her mindset – especially around failure. And I was fascinated to hear about and learn from the material covered!

Since the course, she has consciously and intentionally been practicing acceptance and growth in everyday life. She has found herself to be more willing to take risks and, through that, has found empowerment and growth through failure.

Here, Natalie shares some of her learnings and best practices so that we can start to not only learn from failure, but to grow and thrive through failure so that we can live out our best lives possible moving forward.

Finding Empowerment Through Failure

Failure is often a taboo subject. We push it aside and bury it under the many successes that define our careers, relationships, and dreams. Yet, failure is a universal experience that affects all aspects of life. Failure is normal. Failure is okay. Failure is expected.

My Relationship with Failure

I have always had a deep and toxic relationship with failure- I call it perfectionism. I was taught to fear failure and to remove myself from any experiences in which I could fail. I felt embarrassed to talk about my areas of growth and my areas of improvement. And, in attempts to heal the negative emotions that came from my perfectionism, I denied failure entirely.

But, through careful self-reflection and mentorship, I now realize the importance of failure in my life. I know my relationship with failure is ongoing- and I hope it will only continue to grow! Through failure, I have found empowerment and internal development.

The Ugly Truth About How I Became a “Recovering Perfectionist”

Recently, I applied for a job position. The application process was long and mentally trying. After a tedious back and forth process of applications and interviews, I found out that I did not get an offer. I was devastated. It felt like a step back, and it made me feel less than myself. I immediately reached out for feedback from the coordinator to better understand where I needed improvement.

She carefully sat down with me and explained that she likes to start these sorts of sessions by asking about strengths and successes. She glanced at her notes from my various interviews, and listed several factors that contributed to my continuation through the process. She asked me questions and answered any that I had along the way. But most importantly, she sat quietly when I needed reflection.

Near the end of the session, she mentioned that she noticed something about me- and it struck me in a very profound way. She told me that, like herself, I was a “recovering perfectionist”. She said that in interviews (and in life), we often hold ourselves back because of a fear of failure. She told me to embrace my mistakes and use them to grow. We do not have failures, but rather, areas of growth.

How I Made Peace with Failure

In addition to my life-changing conversation with this woman, I also recently took a college course focused around various mindsets, and it has enabled me to make peace with failure. Even still, I am always adapting my relationship with failure and I am always striving to change the way I view mistakes and faults. It isn’t about ignoring failure, it is about making peace with it. Failure is bound to happen, and we all experience it. It is only when we accept and welcome failure that we are able to grow.

Validate Failure

One thing that I learned in my college course surrounded the idea that we must validate negative feelings, while not restricting my personal growth.

In the impactful book,Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,  by psychologist Carol Dweck, she challenges readers to consider how they view failure. Specifically, there are two mindsets: growth and fixed. In a growth mindset, individuals use failures to adapt to new experiences. In a fixed mindset, individuals believe that skills or talents are unchanging and will not improve over time. By practicing a growth mindset, we can better adapt to the constantly changing world. A growth mindset takes practice, but it’s a worthwhile habit to begin. Our brains are malleable, and our neurons can change with experience, but most importantly, they can only change with practice.

Self Reflection

Failure is about personal assessment. In my daily life, I have to consciously consider my areas of growth and failure, then then assess how I reacted. How did I feel? What did I do to handle the situation? Did I ask for help?

By creating these small moments of self-reflection, I take time to adjust my personal mentality towards failure. I am able to find empowerment through this switch of framework. I take ownership for my mistakes and use them to grow. How can I do better the next time? What experiences lead to my failure? Do I need more skills or knowledge?

Our fears and worries about failure also come from our process of internal reflection. How do we seek growth? How do we know if what we are doing is right? How can we make better decisions?

Jessica wrote a piece on listening to your intuition, and in many ways, intuition and adjusting our thoughts on failure go hand in hand. Together, they can lead to a very positive and rewarding mentality towards big (and small) life decisions.

How I Change My Mindset Towards Failure

By looking at failure as a way to grow, it becomes very empowering. We have control of our actions, feelings, and decisions, and we can use failure to learn and to adapt. I frame my successes and my failures in the same way- I am proud of the milestones that lead to my relationships, accomplishments, and goals, but I am also proud of my mistakes and slip-ups that lead to a deeper understanding of who I am.

It would be crazy to define who I am based on one accomplishment, and likewise, I should not define who I am based on one failure. The reality is that life is complicated. There will be successes and there will be failures- but both lead to a satisfying and challenging journey.

When I applied for that job earlier this year, I obviously wanted to hear positive news. But since then, I have come to realize that there are many other opportunities and callings that would satisfy my needs. For example, I would have never had the opportunity to meet with that woman to discuss my areas of growth. I felt empowered through our conversation and in my self-reflection. In my mind, that makes the whole experience a success.

Moving Towards Empowerment

To find empowerment, we need to change our mental framework and mindsets towards failure. We need to avoid perfectionism and realize that both our successes and our failures are simply milestones on a long journey.

Through risk and trial and error, we can become more aware of who we are. There are endless possibilities, outcomes, and callings in every situation, but any failure, mistake, or bump-in-the-road leads us closer to where we are supposed to be.

Putting it Into Practice

Consider a recent failure that changed your plans or goals, take a moment to reflect on where it lead you and consider these questions: How can you do better the next time? What experiences lead to your failure? Do you need more skills or knowledge? But most importantly, ask yourself: where did my failure take me?

Life is a journey of stop and go, and every failure takes us one stop closer to where we are headed. Failures aren’t roadblocks, they are checkpoints on our way to a successful life.

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