Losing the Game of Life – 7 Ways to Cope With Chronic Failure
I have been asked why I always see the glass half empty or why my myopic vision seems permanently focused on an eclipse of the sun. For years, relatives and friends have wondered why I so readily embrace doom and gloom in an attempt to understand my persistent pessimistic bent in life. They’re concerned that I’ll keep the black clouds overhead forever – comfortably miserable in that dismal, dim light.
But the transformation process towards embracing positivity can be a very slow one with barely perceptible incremental changes, especially if life’s defeats keep adding up. Since leaving the Ivory Tower where I left my last vestiges of success behind decades ago, I’ve floundered in various positions, unable to climb my way up any financial/social ladder.
I may go up a couple of rungs, only to lose my footing and start all over again. Over time, the constant disappointments, rejections, and failures have mounted to such an extent that the ladder seems to have been greased or have missing steps.
But this is no self-pity party here and I’ve already thrown away the maudlin violins playing in the background. Finally, I’ve decided to look at the big picture with a different lens, and my purpose in writing this article is to serve as your optometrist, helping you to see your life more clearly. I’m not pushing the rose-colored glasses – just ones that will expand and enhance your vision, helping you to see yourself and your life more realistically and with more compassion.
Consistent professional strife commingled with personal life challenges requires resilience, persistence, determination, and a can-do attitude. Now I’ve read enough self-help books and I’ve seen too many Rocky movies not to know that it’s not the failures that define us but our reactions to such failures. Do we just give up and stay on the canvas, or do we try to bounce back and fight another day?
It’s easy to have a spring in your step when you receive only an occasional knockout. But it becomes much more difficult when you feel as though you’re getting hammered on a daily basis. To all my fellow underdogs, here are 7 ways to make it through the constant deluge:
1) Ask yourself, “Is this really failure?” We tend to be so self-critical when we evaluate ourselves, determining whether we’ve accomplished our goals. We may hit one milestone but if there are loose ends and other tasks that are yet to be fulfilled, we regard our efforts as useless and meaningless.
We disregard success, especially perceived minor success, believing that we haven’t scratched the surface of all that needs to be done. Consequently, our internal dialogue becomes so skewed as we bombard ourselves with thoughts of inadequacy, emphasizing that we’re not good enough. I’ve done this just about my entire life, highlighting failures in my own mind like a ticker tape of strikes. I seldom think about the good that has surfaced and I definitely don’t relish any success – at least not for any stretch of time.
Case in point: My son is on the autism spectrum, and I was told that he would never speak or accomplish just about any task independently. But through an incredible amount of hard work, commitment, and dedication, he has progressed beyond those limiting parameters set by several doctors. But while I should celebrate his achievements and be thrilled that he continues to advance, I too often look up that developmental mountain, thinking it’s too high to climb. I’m finally seeing just how far away we are from that starting point.
Moreover, for years, I blamed myself for not figuring out the missing puzzle pieces of autism. Yes, I worked with him hours upon hours a day, but I thought that I should be more clever and insightful in my approach to truly help him. I actually thought of myself a failure as a parent for not making more of a difference. Those days are long gone as I now congratulate myself on serving the role of Dad in an exemplary way.
Perhaps, you too, are not seeing a given event clearly, defining it in a negative way, and likely disregarding the positives.
We have to think like Thomas Edison, who made over 1,000 attempts before he invented a longer-lasting light bulb. He never regarded his prior efforts as failures because he learned what not to do, and gained from the benefit of his past experiences.
2) Give up caring about what the neighbors think – It’s difficult enough to be one’s own worst enemy. Why compound the problem be being overly consumed with what people think of you?
We have to accept the fact that people love gossip, and sometimes, like others to fall flat on their face. Some enjoy pointing out others’ failures if only to temporarily elevate their perceptions of themselves … although that never works.
But we cannot internalize other folks’ critical views of us. We also have to stop assuming that people who know us even have such views. This can be immobilizing where we just give up and start making decisions that are counterproductive.
Even well-intentioned loved ones may share advice because they feel you’ve lost your way. Hearing different perspectives can be helpful but ultimately you have to make your own choices.
You have inner wisdom and intuition that you can tap into. You should not define yourself and direct your actions based on the (welcome and unwelcome) feedback that you receive.
I have a cantankerous older neighbor who sees that I work from home several days a week. I once overheard him calling me a “Bum” because he believes that I don’t have a job. It hurt me profoundly, and made me question my present career choice. While you may not be saddled by this type of sensitivity, it’s possible that you’re giving over your power to someone because of your perceived chronic failures. Don’t do this!
3) Express sincere gratitude – Why would you be grateful for incessant failure? It would seem more appropriate for you to curse it and feel as though you lead a cursed life.
But think about the prospect that you can even go for your dreams. While it may seem as though you’re on a hopeless quest to attain these dreams, at least you have the power and privilege to make your wishes come true. There are people in the world who are unable to make their own choices and don’t have the same options.
And even if you feel your options are limited, you probably can still work around them. It may take you longer to reach your destination (perhaps a lifetime) but there are lessons to be learned along the journey … and that is a silver lining in and of itself.
The only real failure may be the failure to ignore the beauty around you, the sun shining on your face, and the blessings in your life.
Refuse to allow failure to obscure life’s joys and your own amazing talents and intrinsic worth.
4) Fail Up – Here, I’m borrowing a quote from Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett.
Recognize the vicissitudes of life and accept that changes are always going to surface. You may feel that the pendulum of life will always stay set at ‘unfavorable,’ but understand that the pendulum will swing its full arc and one day go in a more positive direction.
You can help move the pendulum along by creating positive, optimistic thoughts. You can even exert more force on that pendulum by continuing to take action, damned the torpedoes.
The idea is to continue to move forward, and not get stuck in the muck and mire of the difficult present and the burdensome past.
Learn, like Edison, from your one thousand and one failures, and march along your path with a sense of invincibility.
Failures do not necessarily beget more failures. In fact, the more failures you experience, the more likely success is to materialize.
5) You’re not the only one going through it – So many of us feel that life has a personal vendetta against us. We may believe that we’re getting singled out, always at the center of a storm. We may also think that other people have it easy … or at least easier than us.
We have to understand that trials and tribulations will face each one of us. It’s impossible to remain unscathed by problems as they’re part of the human experience. And everyone faces failure, particularly when en route towards a goal.
If you take every failure personally as proof that the universe is conspiring against you, your creating a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Additional disappointments are much more likely to come to the forefront as this is your expectation. Indeed, your manifesting the same type of negative events you’re focusing on, and don’t wish to happen.
It’s easier to cope with failure when you realize its universal, and not only directed your way. As the hackneyed expression goes, “The only people who don’t fail are those who don’t try.”
6) Make peace with failure – I’ve pointed out the necessity to keep going forward, come what may. But as you persevere in the storm, protect yourself with this thought:
Success is not the be-all, end-all. It may feel as though it’s imperative to come out on top, but remind yourself it’s going to be alright if you’re not victorious. You can still be a happy and well-adjusted person even in the midst of repeated failures.
Try the psychological technique of positive reframing to see the worthwhile attributes of failure. For example, you may learn which methods are ineffective, and get clues to better strategies. Moreover, failure may lend itself towards helping you create more realistic goals, if applicable.
Aside from seeing the positives of an undesirable outcome and know it is not a matter of life and death, you can make peace with failure by first making peace with yourself. This starts by loving yourself unconditionally.
7) Be kind to yourself – My grandmother would always share this loving expression with me, “Be kind to yourself.” You, too, should take my grandmother’s advice.
Chronic failure naturally and inevitably can cause wear and tear on the psyche. Regret, disappointment, and frustration can easily impact physical health as well.
So to better deal with life’s downs, do something every day that uplifts you. Of course, individual preferences vary. Decide how to best heal yourself. You may decide to go to a scenic beach, see a funny movie, or spend quality time with friends.
This does not mean to suggest that you’re running away from problems. You’re just taking a welcome respite to reenergize and recuperate from downward spirals.
Being kind to yourself also entails watching your internal dialog, replacing negative self-talk with more compassionate and loving messages.
You can’t allow failure to impact the quality of your life.
In the final analysis, you can have a winning, joyful life even if failure continues to crop up. Failure does not have to lead towards failure to thrive.
I’ve listed several coping mechanisms to deal with incessant failure, and ways to rethink any negative experience. Stick-to-itiveness, resiliency, persistence, and self-love are admirable traits that can be developed over time.
In the interim, stop labeling yourself, believing that you’ve let yourself and other people down. Stop evaluating yourself based on societal judgments of what you or someone of your age and experience should be accomplishing.
Do the best you can and realize that “We’re guests of existence,” as my grandfather used to tell me. We’re here for such a short time so we should be totally engaged in the process of life, not on any given outcome.
Motivational speaker and best-selling author, Denis Waitley, provides some empowering thoughts on the matter:
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Here’s to doing something and being someone special! Remember, the path towards greatness is riddled with an abundance of failure.