When Things Go Wrong

Everyone has his or her own way of coping with the disappointment that comes from failure. Some people can easily pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again. People who tend to be hard on themselves may create their own barriers to getting past failure. Many times we are truly our own toughest critics. Other people – our friends, family, and co-workers, are usually much more generous with compliments than we are with ourselves. Therefore, I keep a sheet of paper in my office in plain view with a list of positive adjectives describing me taken from letters of recommendation I've received over the years from colleagues, supervisors, and satisfied customers. I reflect on it regularly. Many of the words used to describe my professional strengths are words I wouldn't have necessarily chosen to describe myself.

My point is that we often overlook our strengths. This can also be said about failures. When things go wrong, especially in school or work, we often blame ourselves. Taking things personally such as failing an exam or a poor performance evaluation is a reaction based in emotion. It is challenging to avoid taking disappointments personally.

Time and Space

Allowing ourselves time for emotions is important provided there is a way to work through them. One step in letting go and moving on is having an objective viewpoint. A strategy in moving into an objective perspective is to de-personalize your viewpoint. Almost everything can be depersonalized. Doing this requires positive thinking and positive information to replace negative thoughts and negative information. Once you have experienced negative emotions that result from failure, you'll be better able to identify the information you will need to move on. People often say, "If I could do xyz over again, I would." This is because the emotional aspects of the failure are gone. It has become possible to use the new information they have discovered to increase their understanding.

We often rely on friends and family for sympathy and understanding. What we get from them is acceptance based on their love and caring for us regardless of our accomplishments or failures. If our friends and family can do this, we should be able to do this for ourselves.

Negative and Positive "Self Talk"

Being able to recognize any negative "self talk" that we do is important. It can be difficult, but it is essential in preparing for future challenges. Some women need to pay special attention to negative messages created in our own minds. While men and women are equally capable of negative "self talk" or having a failure mentality, more women seem to have this tendency. Because some of our conditioning allows negative images to enter our view of ourselves at an unconscious level, undoing these messages requires digging deeply. Even women, who seem successful, prosperous and generally confident, often respond to positive feedback with comments like, "It was a stroke of luck," " I've been so fortunate," or "I couldn't have done it without you."

While recognizing the assistance or support of others is important, too often our conditioning tells us to downplay our success for fear of seeming over confident. Unfortunately, it sends a mixed message that says, "I am not completely in control." This type of message is destructive and unproductive. It diminishes others' views of our competence. More importantly, the internal message it perpetuates is, "I am not completely in control of my failures either." I believe it is for this reason, women struggle more with moving out of the emotional trouble failure may cause in comparison to men. This is the underlying tenant of the failure mentality that should be understood, avoided, and reprogrammed by any means necessary. Sometimes confidence has to be re-built. Reminding oneself of accomplishments or the skills it took to achieve a goal is a good way to maintain a positive attitude toward future success.

Moving On

When a project fails or a promotion is denied, you may find yourself saying, "why did I think I could do that anyway?" The answer should be, " because given the right circumstances, the right information, resources, etc., I would have been successful." Making a clear assessment of what went wrong is very different from making excuses. If you begin the steps of understanding what went wrong and find yourself making excuses, you may need more time for letting go of the emotional aspect of what has occurred. Make sure you have really let go of the emotions attached to whatever has gone wrong for you before you begin preparing for your next challenge.

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