How should I deal with failure?

von Johannes Justus

Mistakes and failures are part of life. They are inevitable for everyone who takes risks and wants to break new ground. Failure is by no means just an issue for progressive people. It even affects those who do not voluntarily get involved in the new and foreign, because staying in the familiar environment can also be risky. Everything in this world is changing. Whether they like it or not, even the less daring personalities will have to experience defeat.

So the question is not whether I could or will fail in some areas of my life, but how I deal with it when it happens. How do I get up after falling? Answering these questions is far more constructive.

The American entrepreneur Ray Dalio said on this subject:

“In my opinion, the key to a successful life is knowing how to set goals and taking on a lot, especially knowing how to fail properly.”

But how do you fail properly? Or to put it better: How do I maintain a lifestyle of getting up? When I personally think about dealing with failure, five inner actions come to mind that have become important to me. It is these actions that make standing up successful. Without these acts, it will be difficult to get up again after failure.


Be honest

First of all, it is important to be honest with yourself. I do not cause everything that affects my life. It is important to look at the incident objectively. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it often helps to create a distance from what has happened before the incident took place.

If you take a closer look at your own failure, you running risk of falling from two sides of the horse. Some talk their own mistakes good and make statements such as “It’s not so tragic”, “Something like this happens to everyone” or “Actually, it was their fault and not mine”.

Others make out the incident worse than it actually was and plunge into self-condemnation. Neither is helpful.

What is useful in this situation is to take a kind of meta perspective. It can really help you if you find a good advisor who has a neutral position. Because of their distance, they can look at things with less emotion. As long as I am very emotionally connected to my defeat, it remains difficult to look at it soberly. It is common knowledge that everyone has their own view of things and their own form of truth. If one is emotionally hurt, it may be even more so.

The New Testament assigns Jesus the attribute to be the “truth” (Mark 12:14; Rev 19:11) because he was indisputable and was considered being absolutely trustworthy. Truthfulness is an inner attitude that searches for the truth.

If one is interested in adopting a meta perspective, one should heed the principle of truthfulness instead of covering up or trivializing what happened.


Take responsibility

I suspect most people would say that they take responsibility for themselves and their lives. But actually only a few do this. We humans are somewhat ambivalent in this area. On the one hand, we want to determine our own life and do not tolerate external control in our life. On the other hand, we are reluctant to admit mistakes and failures. We would much rather blame circumstances or other people for our own mistakes.

If something does not go as it should, the culprit is quickly sought and usually found. To hold someone accountable or to make them responsible for something has meanwhile become a habitual act in everyday life in business, politics and churches. We usually have negative associations with the term “responsibility”. So it is not surprising that the short question: “Who is responsible?” Triggers unpleasant reactions from everyone involved. Therefore, nobody wants to be really responsible for something.

At first it can be easy to blame someone or something for your own failure. It may also be easier to complain about things that are beyond our control, but it is absolutely ineffective. Before I get to the target-oriented plot, I want to mention this: This wrong approach even seems to have become modern. While about two decades ago nobody wanted to use the term “victim”, today even high-ranking politicians in Europe like to slip into this role.

A victim doesn’t have to take responsibility. It doesn’t have to ask what it could have done differently, because it’s not to blame. Instead, it hits pain, compassion and the affection of other people.

But this attitude blocks personal development. Giving up responsibility also means giving up control of your own life. So growth and development cannot take place. They don’t happen until I take my own circumstances into my own hands. Therefore, I can only urge everyone to forget who and what contributed to their failure and instead to take responsibility for what happened.

People who are ready to face the consequences of their failures or mistakes and make the most of them reveal a stable inner core. It is such people who will remain successful in what they do. Because they take responsibility, it will be easier for others to give them responsibility for things and people.


Let go

It is not always easy to forgive yourself for your mistakes, sins, and failures. The memories of the past can gnaw at your own self-esteem for a long time. Both our own voices and those from the past are happy to respond and remind us of what happened. They often fly in like vultures. We are not carrion, but living beings. Hence, it is not wise to keep yourself trapped in the past.

By the way, God doesn’t do this either. If we look at the Bible, we will quickly see that he can forgive and forget. A passage from the Old Testament describes this very clearly:

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

When I advise people, I like to ask them whether you can turn back time and undo things. This is of course a rhetorical question. We know that no human can do this, so it is good to let go of the past. By “letting go” I don’t mean “repressing”, but learning from it and giving it up.

One person once said to me, “What can I learn from the injustice that has been done against me?” My answer was, “A lot.” First of all, you can learn how to do right and how not. You also learn to forgive. Reconciliation is something we do for one another and for which we need someone to be opposite. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily need someone else and we don’t do it for others, but for ourselves. With it, bitterness and anger disappear from our soul.

Who should you hand over the past to? After we have faced it and let go of it, we can confidently hand it over to our Lord Jesus Christ. He’ll make the best of it.

Even if my past seems like a ruin, in his eyes it is more than that. For him it is like building material. Some things can look like dung to me, but for him it’s like fertilizer on which my present and future will flourish.


Make decisions

No matter what circumstances and challenges life brings us, what matters is making good decisions about the future that lies ahead. If we don’t, it will be difficult to succeed or be happy. This is true in general, but also especially when dealing with failure. To get up and change my current situation I need good decisions, otherwise everything stays as it is or things repeat themselves. It also doesn’t make sense to wait until everything gets better by itself.

I would like to explain it using the following example. One person said to me in a conversation, “I find it incredibly difficult to make decisions. I prefer to wait for favorable opportunities and wait until everything is right, then I can make a better decision.” I had to answer her that no decision is also a decision, “Each of us makes a decision, for or against. You have made a decision to stay where you are.”

Unfortunately, not making decisions means the same thing as not taking responsibility for your life: you let circumstances decide your life. Not making a conscious decision is also a decision – often the worse one. Some think it makes sense to wait for good opportunities. Others act wiser by creating new opportunities.

I therefore personally recommend making decisions – albeit with understanding, with feeling and with spirit.

Mind: To decide with the mind means for me to weigh what speaks for this decision and what speaks against it. What consequences do I have to expect? What advantages or disadvantages does the decision bring for me and also for my fellow human beings?

Emotions: Our feelings can sometimes be deceiving, but they don’t always cloud our minds. On the contrary. Sometimes they alert him to what we may have overlooked. They warn us of situations that we have already experienced in a similar form and of falling into the same trap.

“The heart has reasons that the mind knows nothing about.” – Blaise Pascal

Spirit: The human spirit should always be awake. By that I mean that it is his job to check whether the decision is compatible with the Word of God. Whose will do I put in the foreground in my decision? My personal wishes do not always correspond to God’s will.


Be open-minded

Open-minded people open up to the new and the unknown. They are not closed to learning, growing, and development. If you want to overcome defeat, you should be receptive to the new and foreign.

This attitude takes courage. Because this opening up to the new and unknown also means being a beginner again. As a beginner, you don’t always succeed in everything and you have to expect to face your mistakes and defeats. However, this is necessary because people grow little in pleasant phases of life. In failure and in crises, however, people learn the most if they are ready to get up again and improve.

Due to my age, I am slowly heading towards retirement and thus towards a new phase of life that is still completely unknown to me. In this context, I am often asked what I will do with the reality that is new to me. I will then gladly reply that I will continue to live. Actually, everyone does that. But often this continued life looks more like waiting for death or life to die, because one is no longer ready to open up new areas for oneself. In my opinion, this lack of willingness to develop has nothing to do with age, but with one’s own openness to the new.

An open-minded person wants to learn something new. He likes to ask questions because he knows that there is still a lot left to learn. So he is not only capable of learning, but primarily willing to learn.

Personally, I have made the following belief my own: Life means well to me, even if it doesn’t always look like it. This attitude helps me to get up in difficult phases in life and to address them, even if I struggle with them now and then. Is that easy No! But it’s worth it.

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