We tend to beat ourselves up unnecessarily when we reflect on what we wanted to accomplish and where we ended up. For instance, ten years ago, I had just finished my undergrad degree. I was ready to take on the world, and I wanted to work for the FBI or a government agency. But as time passed, I slowly saw that dream slipping away. The reality is, I am colorblind. No matter how hard I fought to get into a program, no matter who I knew, I could neither pass nor get a waiver for that god-forbidden test. It took me a while to admit I had no control over the situation because it meant defeat. That I had failed.
Now, my undergraduate degree is practically useless. Some would call me a failure because I can’t use my degree in my field of study and failed to secure my dream job. And if I were to look at my life in these broad strokes, then, yes. One could say I failed myself.
But what if failure isn’t so bad?
Looking back on my situation and where life has taken me over the past ten years, that experience—failure included—has led me to my work today. Now, I’m in a profession I love, and it’s a path I wouldn’t have taken if I had pursued my initial goal. Granted, the first few years after realizing I wouldn’t achieve my original goal were rough, and I experienced multiple failures in finding my place in life, but I gained knowledge and experience through those situations.
We often don’t see the silver lining of failure because we are taught to view failure as inherently bad. (Think back to when you were in school. Failure meant you were wrong; there was no way around it.) And those who have experienced a situation similar to my own—i.e., those who have chased a dream and failed to achieve it—are especially prone to the toxic logic of failure as a negative state. These individuals find themselves in limbo—not knowing where to go, what to do, or how to handle the predicament. And perhaps these wayward souls move on to something else, but the negative perception lingers. This perception instills fear when other goals arise. It encourages one to develop excuses and/or fail-safes (maybe, what if, etc.) if things go awry. So the next time that person sees an opportunity, that person only goes half in—defaulting to escape thoughts and failing to grow.
Looking back at what should have been makes it easy for us to get caught up in the negative aspects of failure. Unfortunately, we focus too much on the negatives when there are great lessons—positive lessons—to learn from experiencing them. In my case, my failure became an opportunity. It allowed me to pursue a career that positively impacts others. I just had to change my perspective. Maybe your own perceived failure is an opportunity to flourish elsewhere or is the stimulus you needed to review and revector your goals for future success. Maybe all you need is a new Perspective?
We tend to overlook what we have gained from the past to the present day. We tend to hide our failures instead of pulling them apart and analyzing them—using them as a means to learn and grow. But failure can mean a change in direction, a new opportunity, or a renewal of passion if you let it. What matters is how you approach it.
In short, remember this: When you encounter failure, you can choose to linger on it or you can learn from it and thrive.