How to Cope with Failure

How to Cope with Failure

Everyone fails. To be human is to fail, and fail again, and again. The ancient symbol of fortune's wheel remains as relevant today as ever: the wheel turns, and the greatest success finds himself subject to disaster. But failure, or to be more accurate, a belief that one has failed, can have a dreadful impact, eliciting bitterness and resentment, undermining self-esteem, and even triggering depression. Therefore, learning to cope with failure is vital.

First, it must be stressed that failure, like success, is subjective. You decide whether you have failed or not. An individual may yearn to be a great actor, for example; they go away to drama school, take private elocution lessons, apply for endless auditions, and then one day, they land a part in a TV show. It is hugely popular, and they find themselves rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams. But they feel a failure. They wished to be a "serious"' actor, to appear in Hamlet on the London stage, or to take a lead in some cutting-edge art house film.

By their standards they have failed. There have been many distinguished, much-admired novelists, poets, and film directors who considered their career a failure because they never won some great prize or other. And there have been countless individuals who lived out lives of poverty and anonymity, yet considered their life a roaring success because it was fun and filled with love. The point is, you have the power to define success and failure.

Which kinds of success and failure mean the most to you? Some career-driven individuals, keen to get ahead in academia or business, find their priorities turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis or the birth of a child. Now the only success that matters is surviving, or raising a happy, healthy daughter. Success and failure at work cease to mean a thing.

The failures that haunt you most tend to be those from the distant past. You may feel that you failed to be a good son or father. Perhaps you feel a bitter sense of regret for dropping out of a first-class college, or failing to get in in the first place. Or perhaps you feel that you failed in your marriage, and so on. Experienced psychotherapists will tell you that the biggest problem they face when trying to heal a client is the client's instinct to self-punish.

Remember, people vary a great deal, and everyone is shaped by two things: the genes they inherit and the environment in which they grow up. This combination is different for every individual. You did what you could with the hand that was dealt you. Genes and environment molded you into a particular shape, and you responded to life accordingly. Be kinder to yourself.

Not only are you at the mercy of your genes, and the parents, family, and neighborhood in which you are raised, but you are equally at the mercy of the culture you inhabit. The hectic, overcrowded, fast-paced nature of modern society is full of people trying to "make it," to get into a ivy-league school, to land a dream job, to find "the one," and it sets them up for failure.

People expect so much more of life than did those of previous generations. To a man returning from World War II, simply to be alive, out of the sound of gunfire, and sleeping in a warm bed was success enough. Social media pumps people full of insecurity and self-doubt. They trawl through Facebook and see photographs of old school friends backpacking through India, running a successful business, or raising a family, and feel crushed.

So what is to be done? The philosopher Schopenhauer thought humans were condemned to alternate between states of desire and boredom. You either want something and feel a failure for not grasping it (that perfect job, that beautiful house, that place at Oxford University), or you get it and find you are now bored and empty, until a new desire takes its place. Schopenhauer offered the contemplation of beauty as an answer. In moments of wonder, as you stare at a painting, recite a poem, or watch the snow fall, you transcend the ego.

Ultimately, the key to coping with failure is to rid yourself of the ego. You do not need to convert to Buddhism and spend your days chanting in a temple to do this. But so long as you think of yourself as an isolated individual, a "skin-encapsulated ego," as one writer put it, you will forever be seeking new goals, or beating yourself up for failing to achieve old ones.

Be your own person. Don't allow other people to shape your goals and ambitions. Always ask yourself if what you want is an authentic desire or something others have convinced you you must obtain. Once you rid yourself of the grasping, frightened, time-bound ego and accept just how small and insignificant you are in the big picture, you can start to be happy. All success is temporary. Can you remember the big celebrities of 100 years ago? Live here and now, and make the small, trivial pleasures the center of your life.

Failure is a dreadful feeling, especially when accompanied by guilt, regret, and depression. Yet failure is essentially a belief, rooted in the ego. Take back the power to decide how success and failure are defined, and you will be free.

TattoedMonk: "I guess..."(meet us in the poems)

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