How to Deal When You Feel Like You’ve Failed


It’s the end of another year, the holidays are reaching full swing, and we can almost feel Thanksgiving dinner in our warm and happy tummies. Invariably, the appearance of winter triggers not only cravings for mistletoe, but also an urge to reflect. 

For some of us, 2014 was a banner year. When we look back, we feel proud and satisfied; we worked hard, we played hard, we learned things, perhaps we even fell in love. We enter the holidays with joy, happy to celebrate a year we can truthfully call successful. 

For others however, 2014 was not so kind. For us on the losing side (perhaps we did not actually lose in a universal sense, but we certainly feel like it), the holidays are a brutal reminder that we have run out of time. The year’s hourglass has run its course and when fate tallies our progress on December 31st, we feel like we will have nothing to show for the last 365 days. We dread facing Uncle Charles over Christmas pie when we know he will ask us what his favorite niece has accomplished this year. We have nothing to say to him that won’t make us cry. 

We are not stupid. We know that we will have good years and bad years. But how can we cope when we find ourselves in a bad one? How do we hold up our heads when the relationship we made so many compromises for fell apart, when the raise we were in line for turned into a layoff, when our project pipeline dried up and stayed dried up, when we drove away our best friend, that the last time we felt creative was in college? How do we stand the swirling cocktail parties (or lack thereof) when we feel like we have failed?

remember that leadership and character are not defined by a lack of mistakes or bad luck or failures, but by how we respond to them

If any of this is you, remember that leadership and character are not defined by a lack of mistakes or bad luck or failures, but by how we respond to them. 

As unappealing and as terrible as it may sound in the moment, you will live. You will keep breathing. As long as you are breathing, there’s hope. As long as you are breathing, you’re a fighter. There’s a phrase my father used to recite that has stuck with me clearly throughout the ten-month stretch of un/underemployment that has characterized my own 2014: This too shall pass. Nothing lasts forever, neither the good times, nor the bad, as long as we keep fighting. 

In light of this, there are a few things that we can do to get through a bad year just a little bit better.

Spend more time listening.

One of the most dangerous aspects of feeling like a failure is that we begin to feel so sorry for ourselves that we lose track of what is going on around us.  An over-sized bowl of ice cream or a too-quickly polished off bottle of wine here and there isn’t going to kill us, but we should beware that our wallowing will make us miss the suffering of our friends, that when we seek them out for shelter and support we might fail to recognize that they are going through their own struggles too. Take time to listen. Look outwards instead of inwards. You may lighten both your burden and someone else’s. 


Spend more time looking.

The world is a spectacularly beautiful place, but from where failure sits it may be difficult to see that beauty. It’s incredible how much hope and encouragement can come from finding wonder in the complexities of a starry sky or a flower or a blade of grass. Try to step outside of your worry, outside of your fear that failure is now your identity, and notice that you live in an incredible world. It’s easier said than done, but you will feel the weight lift at least a little bit every time you do. 


Spend more time serving.

Other people are struggling too, some of them even worse than you are, and they could use help. If you feel as though you have failed, you may feel like you have nothing to offer when in reality, this might be a great opportunity to give back. Are you unemployed? Suddenly you have several free hours a day you can spend volunteering. Heartbroken? The lack of cuddle time means you can babysit your friend’s kid or start putting feelers out for that non-profit you’ve always wanted to start. Alone? Become a mentor to a child in junior high or high school. You may feel like every door has closed to you, but you might be surprised how many doors are still open. 

No amount of advice will make a feeling of failure go away, but we can decide inside of ourselves that we will move forward.

No amount of advice will make a feeling of failure go away, but we can decide inside of ourselves that we will move forward, that we will look outward, that we will consciously work to free ourselves from the cloud of awful every day by giving instead of taking, by listening instead of sobbing, and by serving instead of wallowing. Be brave. Share what you have learned. Real life is not a fairy tale. Real life is hard and it’s not fair and it’s worth it anyway. It’s even more worth it if we do it together.


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