I'm going to let you in on a secret: I'm kind of an expert at failing. I've promoted products that no one purchased. I've poured my heart into content, and gotten crickets in response. I've lost money on investments. I've had more ineffective sales calls than I can count over the years. I've had to cancel events and postpone workshops because no one signed up. I have failed a lot, and I'll be the first to admit that it never feels good to come up short.
I also know that if you're up to anything in life, failure is inevitable. And not only is it inevitable, it's *highly* valuable. It is one of the richest sources of information in our lives, because it lets us know what doesn't work. In reality. An idea may sound great, but until we put it to the test, it's just an idea. Trail and error give us real information.
Where things start to go sideways is when we conflate the results of our actions with our character and worth. If we see failure as a reflection on who we are fundamentally, deep feelings of shame arise and it changes who we think we are. It becomes easier and easier to find evidence that we're not good enough, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here's the thing though: you are not your results. When you fail it means you checked an ineffective approach off your list, and it's time to try a different one. That's it. That's all it means.
If you've experienced a failure and you're having trouble getting back on your feet, this is my 6 step process that helps me get the ball rolling again:
1. Take time to grieve if you need it. It can feel like a gut punch when you pour your heart into something and it doesn't work out. It's natural to be sad, scared, frustrated or angry (or all of the above). Let yourself cry it out, or throw a little temper tantrum. Releasing those feelings will help you clean the slate and move forward.
2. Make a list of the actions you took. Be objective about the actions, and only write down what a fly on the wall would see. (e.g. "I emailed six resumes and cover letters to six different hiring managers" rather than "I poured my soul into writing good cover letters and polishing my resume, and sent it to everyone I could find." Also include inaction that seems relevant (e.g. I didn't ask a friend to proof-read my cover letter).
3. Write down the result of those actions and inactions. Again, be completely objective. When we add meaning or an interpretation of a result, we often get more upset, and it's much harder to carry on.
For example, if you sent out the resumes and cover letters and no one responded, "No one responded" is all you need to write down. If you write "No one wanted to hire me" you're adding an interpretation. Maybe they didn't want to hire you. Maybe they received 1,000 resumes and didn't even get a chance to look at yours. Maybe the hiring manager went on vacation, and she forgot to turn on her autoresponder. Maybe they were concerned that you were overly qualified and would quit out of boredom.
The point is, unless they specifically told you they didn't want to hire you, you don't know why they didn't respond. Adding that meaning is only going to make you feel worse.
4. Rate the efficacy of the actions and inactions on a scale from 1-10. 1 being "this action did not help me achieve my desired result at all (and maybe even hurt my chances)", and 10 being "this was an extremely effective action that helped me move toward my goal."
5. Take stock of your list, and begin brainstorming about actions you can take going forward. If some of your previous actions scored a 6 or above, they may be worth repeating. If none of them did, then start over. What new actions can you take?
6. Schedule the time to take those new actions. Actually put them in your calendar! Better yet, tell a friend, loved one, or your whole community what actions you're going to take. If you're anything like me, social accountability is the most helpful thing in the world for productivity. If I tell someone I'm going to do something, I'm 100 times more likely to do it.
You may have to repeat this process 50 times before meeting your goal, or it may only take a time or two. Regardless, when we can stay objective and remember that our results and our worth are not the same thing, it is much easier to pick ourselves up when we fall down.
Now go get 'em!