David Strittmatter

Failure – how to deal with it?

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts


  • Embrace your feelings
  • Develop a winner mindset
  • Heed the lessons of failure

Practical advice:

  • Search for successful people who failed many times before succeeding and achieving goals that are similar to yours
  • Tell yourself every day that failure is part of the process and that if you didn’t fail at any point in my life, you weren’t aiming high enough.
  • Maintain a failure journal and note lessons learned

Dear friend,

Have you ever failed at something? You set yourself a goal, tried, and didn’t succeed?

This week I failed. I’d been preparing for an admission test (GMAT) for more than 4 months. I thought I was ready. So, I made an appointment and took the exam. On the test day, I felt very well prepared and the exam itself seemed very fair. Yet, a few days later I received the disappointing test report. Unfortunately, I completely messed up the second part of the exam and, thus, didn’t reach my target score.

High achievement takes place in the framework of high expectation

I knew it’s going to be rough, particularly, because the test had a new format even professional test takers (people earning money tutoring test-takers) struggled with. Nevertheless, a multitude of negative feelings came over me.

After acknowledging my nonsuccess, however, one thing instantaneously came to my mind: I’ll not let this sit on me. I’m going to make the most out of this failure. In today’s blog post, I’ll talk about this process: how I deal with failure and what you should do in order to cope successfully with it.

Embrace your feelings

Failure is often accompanied by a variety of emotions: embarrassment, anxiety, anger, sadness, despair, and shame to name a few. Those feelings are very uncomfortable and, thus, we will do anything we can to escape feeling this emotional discomfort.

Holding in our painful feelings, though, can have negative effects on our health, our relationships, and our future success. It will be harder to move forward if you blame yourself or others, or pretend that what happened didn’t matter or didn’t happen.

The first step to cope with failure is to embrace your feelings. Notice each emotion as it comes to you. Take time to name each of it, be it anger, sadness, fear, or shame. This will enable you to work through it without turning it on yourself or others. Take time to process your feelings and classify them.

After the first shock of disappointment wears off, whether it takes minutes or hours, work on accepting what happened. Write down or reflect on everything that happened, what lead to it, and what the consequences were. State only the facts, without blame, judgment, or justification.

It’s doing wonders for me to write down my thoughts. When I received my score report, I asked myself three questions: 1) How am I feeling right now? 2) How can my emotions be described? 3) What’s the worst thing that could happen because of this nonsuccess? This process is outcome independent, this means that it’s much more about the process than about the result.

Develop a winner mindset

Then, after you slept on it your first night, it’s time to replace your negative emotions with positive energy. No matter how self-confident you are, no matter how often you’ve already succeeded, the first few hours after acknowledging failure are going to be rough. It’s completely normal to feel down. However, what differentiates winners from losers is their mindset and how they cope with failure once the overload of negative is gone.

If you want to deal sovereignly with failure, you have to adopt a winning mindset. If you lack this attitude, you need to reframe your thoughts. Remind yourself of more realistic thoughts about failure such as “I can handle failure”, “I can learn from my failures”, “failure is a sign that I’m challenging myself to do something difficult”, “there’s no failure only lessons”, “if you don’t risk something, you’ve already lost”.

I always tell myself: If I didn’t fail at any point in my life, I wasn’t aiming high enough.

It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default. – J. K. Rowling

Moreover, you need patience in life because not everything will work out instantly. Things take time to work out. People with a winning mindset will always outwork those people who don’t have patience in life. When things don’t happen instantly, just remember that Thomas Edison made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.

Heed the lessons of failure

The real payoff from failure comes when you take the lessons you’ve learned and use them for whatever you do next.

Whenever I don’t reach my goals – no matter how minor they are – I immediately think about the next steps: What do I have to do to avoid making the same mistake twice? What are the key areas for improvement? What was the main source of failure? What will I do next? Do I need to change my plan to reach my goal? Who can help me so that I can reach my goal? I won’t stop contemplating until I figured out the next to-do, wrote it down, fixed it in my calendar, and took the first step towards my next try.

We need to understand that mistakes and failure are the most valuable source of improvement. Failure means you aren’t good enough YET. Or it’s not the right time YET. Failure unfolds our current limitations and helps us to tap our full potential.

I regularly reflect on my latest mistakes and day-to-day failures. I have a document solely dedicated to my personal areas of improvement. Whenever I witness room for improvement, I note it down and think about how I can progress. Challenging myself and aking a little risk every day have become part of my everyday life. I think this is the only way we can live our life to the fullest. How can we leave this world without once having reached the limits of what is possible? I think that is what makes so thrilling.

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