What Failure Feels Like

by TessaSchlesinger

Nobody speaks about failure. The mere rmention seems to conjures it up!. Yet failure is all around us, a part of our lives, and to deny its existence is to deny life itself.

There is a taboo about speaking about failure. It’s not allowed to exist. If one mentions it, there is an immediate need for others to assure one that there is no such thing as failure. Yet failure exists. It is an option within every action, and not every action we take results in the result we want. Edison famously said that his every failure to find a way to invent the light bulb just made his realize how a light bulb was not made. It’s a great line, but was it what he really thought? And was it really failure? I don’t think so. He had plenty of money to sit all day and figure out a way. That’s hardly failure. Failure is something else, and this article wants to introduce you to failure – so that you know what it is, and why it matters sometimes and not other times.

What is Failure?


It would be a  cliché to say that failure can be many different things to different people. I think it is necessary to be more specific than that. Why? Because when one defines something exactly, the demons go away because one can see it clearly. After all, demons only operate in the dark. It is the darkness, or the lack of clarity to see clearly, which is the most frightening about anything. To be able to define something and see it very clearly enables one to conquer it or to take a different path.

Think about it. If you want to go up a mountain, and it is dark, each path you take leads nowhere. You can’t see where you’re going. At best, you’re guessing and you’re hoping that somehow that path is going to lead you up the mountain. Each time you want to give up a friend comes to you and tells you never to give up and so you keep trying to get up that mountain. You keep taking paths that lead to nowhere. In fact, sometimes you seriously injure yourself, and then you have to wait before you try again. But always, always, you have friends telling you that there’s no such thing as failure and you just have to keep trying.

Well, that’s failure. You’re not getting to the top of the mountain. You’ve tried over and over again, but you aren’t getting there. That’s failure. And failure sometimes is there to say, “You can’t go this way” or “STOP” or “This is not the way to do this” or “This is dangerous.”

Failure is a normal part of life
Failure is a normal part of life

Does Failure Always Serve a Purpose?

Why do some people always fail?

Failure most definitely sometimes serves a purpose. It is a warning. It is saying “This is not going to work. Try something else.” Sometimes it’s vital that we listen to failure. As the old saying goes, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

Other times, failure, is, um, just failure. The doors close. One dies. The love of one’s life walks away because s/he’s found someone else. One loses one’s job and it wasn’t even one’s fault – just the lousy economy. In fact, it was someone else’s fault. Then one loses one’s house, one’s partner, and one is homeless and the world frowns on one and says, “What a loser!”

That’s failure. It serves no purpose. It is what it is.

The 10 Reasons Why We Fail
This one also touches on the “station” idea discussed above, but it goes deeper than that. We humans are prone to believing in something psychologists call “agency.” We want to believe there’s a reason for everything, and that everything has a prime mover — an agent, whether human or otherwise. So, we think, what if there’s a reason we are what we are — what if celestial agency has determined it so?

9 reasons why people fail
Probably the most common failure mode, especially for formerly successful people, is they lose their humility and their objectivity and begin to think they have all the answers. They don't just lose perspective -- they honestly don't believe they need it.

Harvard Business Review: Chronicles of Failure
Later, at sea level, I considered my expedition. Failing to reach the top (as half of all climbers do) was only one part of an adventure chock full of exhilarating successes. I reached 19,300 feet, my highest climb by 5,000 feet. I met amazing people from across the world. I climbed with two dear friends. We lived, and we returned with our limbs intact—these are not glib sentiments in mountaineering.

Top 10 tips for facing failure
Failure is normal. Everyone has faced failure. Some people talk about their failures. Some people don’t talk about their failures, which makes it look like they never fail. Don’t believe it. Define or refine. Failure can define you or refine you. If you quit, you have allowed failure to define you. If you keep going, learn from it and get stronger, you have used failure to refine yourself.

Why Does Failure Hurt

Humiliation and Embarrassment

Why Does Failure Hurt

Some failures hurt more than they ought to because we’re not only facing the failure, but facing the opinion of the general public who condemn us (silently) for our failure. It is endemic in our society. Failure is not tolerated.

Other failures aren’t failures at all. They are simply perceived as failures by others, and, again, once more, there is humiliation and embarrassment. For instance, if one has fired for doing the right thing at a job (because the owners are crooked and don’t want the right thing done), it isn’t failure. It is the price that a soldier pays for taking on the war. It’s simply an injury, not a failure. Still, there are those for whom being ‘gainfully employed’ is such a sign of success that they will see the loss of work as failure.

Lastly, there is genuine failure. One has a goal – to be a writer, a singer, own a house, find a partner, and it just didn’t happen, regardless of how hard and/or persistently one tried.

The terrible, terrible thing about failure is that it resembles loss in every way. There is nothing to be done about it. It is pointless to ‘carry on trying’ because trying isn’t going to achieve the goal. In the same way that one cannot bring loved ones back who have passed and one just has to learn to live with the loss, in that way, one cannot do anything about failure except to accept it. Sometimes, in life, we just don’t get what we worked very hard for.

And all the people who tell you that you mustn’t give up and you must just keep trying? They’re call Job’s comforters for a reason. They are fools – people who don’t think very deeply and people who are in denial. Don’t listen to them. Don’t let them make you feel bad because you know that what you so ardently worked for just isn’t possible. You tried your best. In fact, you spent far more time on it than you should have, and now you’re calling it a day.


Good. Because when the night comes, morning isn’t far behind. 

Overcoming Failure
Overcoming Failure
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Recovering from Failure

How not to fail

I’ve failed dismally after more than ten years at trying to earn an income on the web. Try as I might, my writing isn’t earning me anything more than a few pennies here and a few pennies there. Adsense pays me something like $8 a month. I guess people just don’t click on ads next to what one is writing. I understand that. I don’t either. And people don’t buy the occasional product one writes about. I understand that, too. I don’t either. And anyway, for the most part, I’m a writer. I write about what matters to me, and what matters to me is useful information. What matters to me is being a good person. What matters to me is doing the right thing – always. None of which, if you think about it, earns one a blue farthing.

I’ve failed - nauseously, completely, and utterly at it. I’ve tried for ten years, and during the past two of these, I’ve realized that it doesn’t work for me. Yes, it works for others, but the fact that it works for others isn’t a guarantee that it works for me.

So how do I recover from failure? How do you recover from failure?

Smart Failure


Accepting failure

Unhappily, because there are so many people out there who will insist on telling you that you are not allowed to fail, this becomes more difficult than it ought to be.

Ignore them. At best, they mean well. And then again, it might simply be schadenfreude  – the joy that some people take in another’s failure. And their encouragement is meant to simply rub it in. You’ll never really know, so it’s just one more thing to live with.

Step one is to accept the situation. I’m going to go back to the example of trying to go up the mountain in the dark. When it’s daylight and one can see what one is up against – a fence forbidding all entry – it’s much easier to see why one has failed. When one understands that, it becomes easier to accept. So part of step one is looking at the picture clearly, understanding what one’s own limitations were (we all have them), what part the situation or other people played in the failure, and then just accepting it.

Moving On

Getting over failure

It’s easy to say, but where does one move on to. As with loss, when one has been focused on one goal for so long, it’s difficult to find something new that one wants as badly. And so for a while, it’s a matter of simply moving in several directions to see which one fits the best.

For instance, about a year ago, at a particular content site, I realized I was never going to earn a living from content writing for a particular website. I also knew that I didn’t want to be with that particular company so I found another where I thought the ethos would be better suited to who I am. I accepted that I might make money, but I also knew in a deep part of me that it was probably not going to happen.

And with that realization, I started examining other markets – writing novels, writing non fiction, spreading my net in any direction I could throw it.

And as these things will, a door opened, and now I am employed as a content writer by a content marketing company and I’m doing what I was doing but now I’m being paid for it. 

What will be, will be.

Recovery from failure

Picking up the pieces

Recovery from failure is mostly slow and it takes a while. The dreadful thing is that there is no plan or purpose in life, and sometimes, and sometimes people die in a state of failure. Both my parents did. It happens, and that is why we need to give deep thought to our lives. If we do not plan them and shape them and understand them, they can end in places where we do not want to be when our last breath comes.

But what if it does?      

Then, as we lie there, we think to ourselves, “I did the best I could with what I had, and whatever shall be, shall be. Que sera, sera. I lived. I breathed. The flowers were great. There were wonderful people I met here and there. I made love, had children, climbed a mountain or six, saw the world, and learnt some things along the way. Now I hand over my spirit to where it came from and pass into deep nothing.”

Hopefully, there is life after failure. But when next time you see a homeless man, a drug addict, a murderer grown dark with hatred and anger, there sits failure, and so long as one accepts that failure is a normal part of life, and that the way out is to keep moving towards that which is good,, so long failure will never conquer.

Updated: 03/05/2013, TessaSchlesinger
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TessaSchlesinger on 03/06/2013

Thank you teddletonmr

teddletonmr on 03/06/2013

Congratulations Tess, on your dedication to your writing, providing content for those other websites, where what you perceived as failures, have lead you to your current success.
Be well, enjoy every success. Mike

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