How to Reframe Failure

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Creative success coach, Photographer, rescue dog mom, book worm, INFJ, Enneagram 3, doing my best to be mindful, kind & help people be their most authentic, purposeful selves.


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A 5 step strategy to help you accept what’s happened and move right along

A ‘lack of success’ is the dictionary definition of failure. Now, success is all relative, so what one person perceives to be an epic fail, might look like a big win for another. It all comes down to your perception, your goals and what you want out of life. Unless you don’t get out much, failure in some shape or form is inevitable for us all. You run the risk of things not going according to plan whenever you try something new. Be that dating, applying for a job, moving to a new city or starting a new business.

I know someone whose life has been defined by failure; his wife left him, then shortly after that, he lost his job. Both of these are big and tragic life events but he’s defined himself by them ever since and by ever since I mean for the past 30 years. Guess what, he’s miserable and unhappy because he’s not been able to accept or move on from either of these upheavals. I’d go so far as to say he’s wasted his life by getting stuck at ‘I don’t know why this happened to me’ and not being able to move any further along.

Lots of things have gone ‘wrong’ in my life and believe me, I’ve sat in victim mode too, but I got fed up with my own whining and so did everyone around me. Each time I’ve hit a bump in the road, I’ve chosen to regroup, reflect and move on (sometimes it’s taken days, sometimes months). The more I’ve ‘failed’ the better I’ve got at processing it.

Here’s my 5 step failure reframe formula:

Acknowledge that something has gone awry

Say it out loud. ‘My marriage failed’, ‘my business idea didn’t work’, ‘I didn’t get the job’, ‘I dropped the ball’, ‘my husband let me down’, ‘I didn’t handle the situation well’, ‘I should have been honest’. If you don’t want to do this, that’s normal. Acknowledging that something didn’t work out is hard. Do it anyway.

Feel all the feelings

You’ve got to feel it to heal it. What a massive cliche, but never a truer word was spoken by whoever said it. Failure brings up loads of uncomfortable feelings, work through them. Call a friend, see a therapist, talk it out (just not on an Instagram live), journal, smash some crockery, punch a pillow, go for a run. I was once so pissed off at a friend’s wedding when I was left to do a huge pile of tidying up whilst everyone was getting boozed that I took myself off to the kitchen and boiled loads of pasta as an outlet for my frustration (in a pan of water, not directly with my rage). The point is, let the feelings around failure or disappointment come up, then let them out in a safe space.

Ask for feedback

Failure is extra annoying when you don’t know why something didn’t work. Take dating, you might hit it off in a big way with someone and then get dumped without warning after two blissful months. Rarely do you get feedback in this kind of situation, but unless you had said date’s name tattooed across your forehead, it’s probably more to do with their own feelings than an outright rejection of you, but if you’re able to ask, great. In work, business and life failures, wherever possible, ask for feedback. If you can get an honest answer as to why you didn’t get a job, why your proposal was turned down or what someone was looking for that you didn’t provide, you can do something different next time. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to do some inner work. Maybe you could create a more professional pitch. Understanding why something didn’t work will help you learn from the ‘failure’ and move on.

Reflect on what you’ll do differently next time

Armed with the knowledge of why something didn’t go according to plan, you can be aware of the failure warning signs and avert disaster in future. Here’s an example. I was recently asked to quote for a large international commercial photography job, via an agent who was dealing with a production house who were in turn dealing with the overseas client. Complicated? You betcha. I told the agent my rates over the phone, shared a handful of specific images via a quickly thrown together PDF (they needed my portfolio in a hurry) and kept the vague dates they’d given me on hold. Needless to say I didn’t get the job, despite making it to the final shortlist (I’m banking this as a small win). But here’s what I learned: before quoting on a random job via someone I’ve never met, I need to see a brief. If I’d had a brief I could have carefully curated a set of images that fit said brief in a far more professionally presented way. I should have sent in a formal quote and it would have been really useful to have asked for more information or for a meeting with the production agency. I asked for and got feedback about who did get the job so I was able to see where my pitch fell short. I’ll do better next time.

Let it go and let yourself off the hook

Sh*t goes south sometimes, that’s life. It’s part of being human. Getting out of the beating yourself up loop and moving on is key. When something has gone wrong, forgive yourself. If you’re the one responsible for a failure, forgive yourself for not showing up better. If someone else lets you down, forgive yourself for not seeing the reality of the situation, forgive them, learn the lesson and let it go. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be a long soul searching exercise, sometimes just stating out loud, ‘I forgive myself for not doing better and I choose to move on’ is enough. Maybe you need to make peace with someone else. Perhaps you need to see a therapist. Maybe you’d benefit from working with a coach. Whatever you need to do to let go and move on, do that. 

Sometimes not getting what you think you want is a blessing and that’s the way I choose to see situations that haven’t worked out. No big photography job? Yes, I’m a bit disappointed, but it gives me time to work on other stuff and fit in a visit to my family in the UK and you never know what opportunity might come up in its place. 

It’s not always as easy as pull yourself together and move on, especially when it comes to big stuff like divorce, retrenchment and other earth shaking life changes. Part of my job as a coach is to help my clients navigate change, put new plans in place and take the steps required to make them a reality. I’m here to help you do the same. If change is afoot, or you’re stuck in the middle of a change rut, please get in touch with me here. You can also go right ahead and book an exploratory call with me here.

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  1. Iolande Baker says:

    Such a hard hitting post – thank you!
    Sometimes we sit and rehearse our hurt instead of picking up and moving on. These points are great!

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