I want to keep talking about failure. Why? Because everyone fails.
Some people wind up with their souls weighted down by their failures, and others are lifted up by the experience. What is different about these people, besides the lifted-up guys being 100% annoying? Well, the lifted-up guys have learned to make their failure work for them. They've learned how their failure made them better people, and actually enriched their lives.
Bullshit, right? No.
Try this on for size. In 2008, when I was working at a residential center for teens, a client tried to shove a pencil through my eye during a psychotic break. I fought her off for ten minutes in a hallway with the help of my case manager, before a janitor saved my life. Then I had to deal with over a week of the facility trying to blame me for the interaction, despite that they had it on camera. I eventually left, and the facility enacted a total-staff turnover.
This was a failure because there were specific warning signs I did not see, and specific protocols I did not follow which kept me at the facility a week after I turned in my resignation.
What happened to me? I got PTSD. But I got over it, thanks to a wonderful therapist and a great friend. What happened to the client? No idea. But I've moved on. I hope she has, too.
Even two years after the incident, I was looking to learn from it:
- I learned how to handle myself in a crisis situation.
- I learned how to recover from trauma.
- I learned how to stay calm in the face of violence.
- I learned how to protect myself.
- I learned how to stand up for myself in an adversarial and toxic work environment (very helpful).
- And now, eight years later, as a writer, I have a lot of material I can grab from those terrifying ten minutes to use whenever I need them.
How can you learn to recover from failure (epic or regular-old)? There's a couple ways, and I'll cover them in a few blog posts. We’re going to look at strengths, rather than the specific events leading up to or during the failure itself. We’re going to look at resources, and draw on those. And we’re going to look at outlets where you can turn the failure into success in future endeavors.
Everyone is good at something. Some of these things aren’t tangible. Like passion. You're a passionate person, and you throw yourself into everything - your work, your friendships, your hobbies. That is a strength. When we’re looking at strengths, we’re looking more at character strengths, rather than “I’m good at basketball!” Sure, you can slam dunk, but unless you’re failing at soccer, it’s not gonna to help you win at sports. How do you find out what your strengths are? Look for things people say about you or have said about you.
If people say you’re smart, use those smarts to consider the merits and flaws of your failure. In my situation, I was able to apply my knowledge of psychotic breaks to the client. I was also able to weigh the way the facility was treating me to the logic of the situation. Because I was able to apply knowledge and "smarts" to the situation, I was later able to learn from it.
For a passionate person, use that passion to keep moving forward after failure has occurred. I was passionate about social work, even after my failure. I re-examined my desire to go back into social work after such a traumatic experience, and then made safety one of my prime concerns for both my clients and myself.
If you’re smart and passionate, you can consider the ins and outs of your failure and how you can power through them into the next success. But there’s other strengths that lead failure into success as well. Are you considerate and funny? You can turn your failure into a teaching moment for others. Are you kind and resilient? Turn that kindness inward and nurture yourself, and then draw from that resilience to move into the next thing life brings. If you have a take-no-prisoners, goal-oriented attitude that has always brought you success, turn that failure into something to step over, and march to the next goal.
You are not the sum of things you’ve not done, failed at, or left incomplete. You are also the sum of your strengths, everything that makes you shine. That is why people love you and flock to you - your humor, your kindness, your passion, your skill on the CasioTone. So when you’re down, they can help lift you up and carry you through to the next great endeavor.
But I’m getting ahead of myself … we’ll talk about resources in the next failure post.