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Reclaim the ‘F’ word: why you should celebrate failure

Reclaim the ‘F’ word: why you should celebrate failure


We’ve all felt it – that hideous knot of shame and embarrassment when we’ve messed up at something. The feeling can become so overwhelming that we’ll do anything to avoid risking making that error again. Still, fear of failure shouldn’t stop us from aiming high.

Knock-backs are necessary

The important thing is how we deal with them. ‘Failure is such an emotionally charged word, but it’s in our heads, it doesn’t exist,’ says child psychologist Mike Hughesman. ‘Failure is simply not getting the results you’d hoped for – not a profound statement about you as a person.’

Manage your own expectations

Unrealistic expectations are often to blame when we feel we have failed. The trend for instant fame, where we see ordinary people becoming rich and famous seemingly ‘overnight’ creates a culture where people expect things to be handed to them on a plate. The attitude of your parents can also influence your approach to failure – overcritical parents may turn us into perfectionists, making life’s failures harder to accept.

It’s all in your head

‘The sense of failure can be painful and dominate our thinking if we let it,’ says Hughesman. ‘But it may also teach us something useful to help us succeed next time round.’ Recognise that failure offers valuable feedback about what we’re good at. Only you can change how you feel. ‘People can improve their ability to self-regulate, switch off unhelpful trains of thought, and engage a positive mind-set through techniques such as CBT, for example’ says Hughesman.

7 ways to recover from a setback:
1 Reframe your failures

Jessica Chivers, career coach and author of Mothers Work! How To Get A Grip On Guilt And Make A Smooth Return To Work (Hay House, £10.99) suggests ‘reframing’ experiences. ‘Think to yourself, to what extent did it get me closer to achieving my goals? Anything that moves you forward is a positive.’

2 Take the long view

Failure often leads to better things. ‘It’s important, after a knock-back, to recognise that that wasn’t for you, but something better will be,’ says Jennifer Kavanagh, author of The Failure Of Success: Redefining What Matters (John Hunt, £9.99).

3 Focus on the journey

You might see yourself as a struggling mum with cellulite, while someone else views you as master of the work-life juggling act. Even a movie star can feel like a failure if they’re always aspiring to the next goal. ‘For some, the drive to success is never satisfied,’ says Kavanagh.

4 Seek inspiration

‘Read about people who’ve not just failed but have been through harrowing situations, like adversity or disability – how did they cope?’ says Hughesman.

5 Avoid comparisons

Stop caring what others have, says Kavanagh. ‘There is a strong cultural pressure around material success.’

6 Be proud

‘Take pride in the courage that enabled you to reach outside your comfort zone,’ says Hughesman.

7 Keep trying, and then try some more

In the words of writer Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’


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