Three Reasons Why Failure Feels So Permanent

Three Reasons Why Failure Feels So Permanent

I was on Facebook last week and happened to see a headline that actor, Will Smith had some choice words for “The Donald”. I clicked on the headline and watched the video of his press conference in Dubai for Suicide Squad. When probed by a member of the Dubai press about the negative reviews of Suicide Squad he said the following:

” I feel like at this point in my career I’ve earned the right to fail. Right. So, I’m going to take shots and I’m not going to hit them all; because I’m going to be trying really wild, aggressive, creative things. Some of them will be critically-acclaimed, some of them will make money and some of them will be Wild, Wild West.” 

It resonated with me, because it reminded me of my own journey and relationship with failure.

Perfection be damned!

We are the most imperfect-perfect society. Most people are so broken, so lost, still learning, still striving and yet we will do everything in our power not to appear to be an overall failure. It starts when we are young. We are coached, molded and forced to put on appearances whether at church, family functions and school. The messages we receive are that mistakes are okay, but don’t make too many of them. How does something as imperfect as a human rise to such a level of perfection?

We rise to the occasion as much as our spirits can take us and eventually we all fall short. It is in those moments of imperfection that we recognize that we are fighting an uphill battle. Those messages of “failing just enough, but not too much” feel inhumane; but still we have appearances to upkeep.

Why does failure feel so permanent?

The funny thing about failure is: It isn’t permanent at all.  When I look back at my failures, there isn’t one that completely destroyed me. You couldn’t tell me that while I was going through it, but not one destroyed me.

I’ve been through a lot. Once you have overcome the fear of failure, you figure I got this.  That is until your dreams and aspirations grow even larger in size. So, here I am again wanting to expand and reach for the stars and guess who is back to torture me – our frenemies, fear and failure.

To be honest, failure is uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel like comfort food on a rainy day. It’s like the night you drank too much and prayed to get past it; while also promising never to get drunk again. In this way, much of how we approach failure has to do with mindset and approach.

Let’s explore why failure feels so permanent and what we can do to change it.

Reason 1) “If I fail, everyone will know I failed and judge me for it.” Oprah once said that every guest she had on her show from celebrities to the KKK had one thing in common- they wanted to be understood and seen for who they are.  We all worry about others seeing us fail and the opinions and/or judgments that will follow. Particularly in this digital age where everyone is so visible; failure feels very public.

Newsflash: Time fades everything – especially memory. What you think people remember about your failures is very unlikely the case. No one person should have that much power over you and your climb to success.

Reason 2) ” I feel like everything is crashing down on me in this moment of failure.” I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the feeling of failure and how this exacerbates the whole experience. As humans, we generally set out to do something and in return we expect our efforts and intentions to yield the perfect outcome. When things don’t align in the way we imagined, we generally feel like nothing can ever be better again because of that failure. Depending on the magnitude of the failure, those feelings of sadness, guilt, pessimism can last for a long time.

Newsflash: It’s important to go through those emotions, but you can’t live there forever. It’s the whole “being tired of being sick and tired”. The woeful feelings get old. Ultimately, things do get better. It requires a change of perspective and working on your approach to failure.

Reason 3) “Failure is bad and in return what I set out to do was bad.” Let’s be clear most of us don’t know how to fail and recover from it. No matter how many times we try to re-frame “failure” it is still ingrained in us as something negative. Most of us want to be seen as a success. Until recently, success was the positive end of our efforts and failure was the negative outcome of our efforts. It sounds easy enough to say we should revise our definition of success to include a healthy helping of failure, but our prior conditioning doesn’t want us to be great.

Newsflash: Let’s not romanticize failure as if all failures are equal. There are failures that result in casualties and some that are rather benign by comparison. Sometimes it really is as bad as it feels. Still, there is a lesson to learn and a wrong to make right. The grit and strength you have to use to get there is what success looks like.

Like Will Smith, I feel like I have earned the right to fail. It is a revelation you have when you have spent much of your life trying to walk a straight line. Perfection doesn’t exist. While we are all out here trying to figure out our purposes and life missions – we might as well let the failures teach us and lead us to success.

Share your feelings about “failure” with me below.


31 Days, 32 Revelations: Living With Purpose

Image Courtesy of Pinterest

Series Introduction

Every year, I like to find a different way of celebrating my favorite day: my birthday. Since I am turning 32 next month (I know…awww…), I’ve decided to share 32 revelations I have had during the course of my life about everything from life in general to business. Think of it as daily inspiration for you and therapy for me. It is a challenge for me, because I don’t think I have ever published a post everyday in the entire existence of The Aristocracy of HR. Plus, I recognize that while I am fairly generous in sharing on social media and here, I have only just scraped the surface on sharing who I am when I’m not pontificating how HR and Business can do better. Let’s use the month of March to get to know one another better. I hope at the end of the month, you walk away with something you can use in your own life or business.

Day 2 of 31- Purpose

I spoke yesterday about my mantra of not spending energy or time on people, situations, or prospects that don’t serve my purpose. I find the concept of purpose an interesting and elusive idea. When we are young, people ask us what we want to be when we grow up and we give an answer based on two possible premises: either we answer based on what we see modeled in others in our family or we answer based on the things we like at that point in our lives. As we get older, there is both this familial and societal push for us to settle in on a vocation that allows us to support ourselves financially. This societal push is perplexing because, we are essentially forced to make a decision about the trajectory of our lives at 17 or 18 years of age never being privy to the one thing that makes all the difference in being successful and enjoying your life: purpose.

In my opinion, this lack of emphasis on living with purpose has caused several generations to meander about the workforce from job to job; and in some cases career to career with no guiding principles for how they can cultivate a meaningful contribution to humanity.  No wonder there are plentiful stories of unproductive and disengaged workforces. There’s no surprise that people are sailing through life in a stupor. I know people right now who are 50+ years of age -and are finally discovering the ingredients for living a purposeful life. That’s a long time to have lived, worked and expended energy on people, situations, and activities that don’t connect to the essence of who you are. We all need a focus or an objective in life and work.

Have you ever observed a family member or friend who is getting on in age? Among many things that contribute to their occasional bouts of lashing out and irritability is: losing a sense of purpose. The idea that they are no longer viable or able to be of service is often the result of their mental and physical undoing. The same holds true for people in general- we all just want to be a part of something.

I think we should expose children to the concept of having a purpose for their life. The focus doesn’t have to be linear or based on societal pressures, but it should connect to the things that are at the core of who they are. In the least abstract way, I try to explain to my kids that there is great power in doing what you really love. I understand as a parent that “what they love” maybe fleeting at this stage, but at least they are focusing on what they love in whatever moment they are in. I try to model it through my work so they don’t see me as a product of indecision, but someone who is intentional about the work I do and the life I live. My hope is that this focus evolves as they get older and they start to connect-the-dots in doing the things they are good at and have a passion for.

It isn’t enough to make a ton of money. There has to be something uniquely pleasurable and interesting about the work that we do. The intersection of having money and uniquely pleasurable work is bliss. It may sound crazy, but I have recently dedicated myself to seeking out only the initiatives, causes and work that cause my heart to race. It’s just a happier existence for me and it could be for you.


Czarina’s Lesson:  Nobody should care more about how your story gets written, but you. Make sure you are in the driver seat of your life. 

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