Living deliberately

Dealing with failure

failure is success

Let’s face it; we have all failed at something.  That is a “common to all” kind of experience as is the universal dislike of that feeling of having failed.  How we deal with those failures will either set us up for future success or continued failure.  All too often I see folks who take the more destructive path by not gleaning lessons from their failure and thus dooming themselves to future repeats.   I believe all life experiences (good and bad) can be life lessons if we will seek them out and apply them.

I was taught the value of the “after action report” while serving in the Army.  It is a critical look at every person’s actions during the preceding exercise.  No detail was too small to overlook.  We all took turns telling the good and bad; what worked, what didn’t.   Some could be brutal as you had to take ownership for your decisions and actions.  What kept being repeated was that we were not performing this exercise till we got it right.  We are going through this exercise until we can’t get it wrong!  Failures always gave us more to learn from as did the time(s) we got it right.

I use the term “autopsy” with my clients today but the spirit is the same.  We dissect the failure to glean lessons.  It is always frank, sometimes brutal, but incredibly necessary so as to not have a future repeat.  Here are three simple steps to take the next time you encounter a failure:

  1. Acknowledge it.  Hard as it might be to fathom, some people refuse to call it what it was.  Some folks have a hard time uttering the phrase “I failed”.  Again, we all do so it’s not like you are the only one.   Here is the good news: A past failure (even recent) is not a life sentence.   But you can’t glean lessons from an event you refuse to acknowledge.  Admitting you have an issue is always the first step.


  1. Take ownership. While there may have been others involved you have to own your part.  My decisions and actions require the most scrutiny.  Those of others should be acknowledged but ultimately we can’t fix them, only our part is within our ability to change for the future.  Avoid the temptation to simply blame others for our actions.  Only by critically looking at ourselves can we learn and grow.   I encourage clients to write out the lessons learned.  Writing solidifies thoughts, it forces me to organize them and the act of putting them to paper gives them permanence.  And I want to permanently learn these lessons.  Repeating the same mistakes gets old; trust me…..


  1. Move out. At the end of our after action reviews the commander would always tell us to “move out”.  Certainly there should be a time of reflection to make sure we have gleaned everything we can, but at the end of the day we’ve got to move on.  To be sure there is a certain level of skittishness that goes with us.  This can be overcome by the certainty that we have truly learned all we could and are therefore even more prepared.  Moving on is integral to showing ourselves (and others) that we have learned from our past mistakes.  Nothing excites me more than seeing someone succeed in life after a past chocked full of mistakes.

If you are stuck in a cycle of seemingly never ending failures let me encourage you to try these steps.  You can enlist the aid of a friend or a professional to help you if you get stuck.  Do not let the cycle continue, there are plenty of new failures right around the corner!  Learn from them and continue pressing on!


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