Failure is Your Biggest Asset


Do you have a dream that you haven’t achieved yet? Have you had about a thousand setbacks? Didn’t get that dream job? All of the potential jobs seem to dry up in the pandemic?


I was talking to a coaching client the other day about a setback they had. Something that maybe should have gone their way but didn’t. This made them diverge from the “normal” path people take in their careers. This person is a teacher. And I got to thinking, how is this actually the best-case scenario?


As someone who hasn’t had things go to plan, I was thrilled to get to ask this question to my client. Of course, this will not feel like the best-case scenario when you’re in it. It usually just feels like the end of the world. So, being asked how this is the best thing that could have happened is just about the last thing anyone would want to answer. There’s usually a lot of mental resistance to actually answering said question…


We are so often tied up in our stories and unconscious beliefs about how things “should” go. And if they don’t go that way, we make that mean a lot of (not so great) things about ourselves. We feel inadequate, we feel shame, we feel guilt. If you’ve been in this place before, so has everyone. I promise there are few humans (probably none) who haven’t felt these things (after all they are human emotions).


But back to this question about why this could actually be amazing. There is something I think is important to consider that doesn’t go on our resume and is invisible to everyone except the person going through it. And that is the opportunity we have to learn about ourselves, to get curious.


When something goes “wrong” and we feel terrible, we get the opportunity to learn about how our brain operates in that situation. Why do we feel inadequate? What thought/belief is making that happen? Since our thoughts/beliefs create how we are feeling, what belief is going on that could have been unknowingly learned along the way?


Of course, we aren’t born with the belief that if you don’t win an audition or buy a house by the time you’re 30 you’ve failed. When you put it that way it sounds ludicrous. Of course, that’s a learned belief, and the cool thing about your neuroplasticity is it can be unlearned. Society has unspoken but demonstrated rules for how life “should” go. When we set those standards (which are usually ridiculous and not necessarily what everyone even wants), we are setting ourselves up for failure if we don’t believe we are meeting those expectations.


This is learned in school. You failed a test and you weren’t supposed to? Oops, that’s a note home to your parents and perhaps a meeting with a teacher. No concern for how the student is studying if they know how to study, or the importance of learning from what happened, just negative feedback.


No wonder we have raised a bunch of anxious millennials who strive for perfection that doesn’t exist, and happiness promised with a good college education. But I digress…


I think about the times that my students have come to me with setbacks, the things that help me relate to them are not the successes I have had, it is the failures. A student didn’t do well in an audition and doesn’t know how to handle it? Umm yeah, that’s basically the right of passage into the club of being a real musician (but nobody tells us that…). The people I admire most are the ones who have lived through the tough stuff and are willing to talk about it, not the hype of someone who hasn’t struggled and is effortlessly flawless.


So how can a setback be good? You get to learn a lot about yourself if you are committed to doing that (highly recommend…).


Why bother learning about yourself? You gain mental clarity. You get to decide what you’re committed to. You get to decide that you’re committed to having your own back, to showing yourself compassion, to getting to know what your underlying beliefs are, to respecting yourself as a worthy human. This mental clarity will afford you a decrease in mental drama, the ability to handle other similar situations, and the ability to see your beliefs clearly and build new ones that SERVE you.


When something doesn’t go your way, there’s probably a voice in your head that tells you you’re a failure. That happens to most people (myself included). My brain tries to talk myself into thinking that I’ve accomplished nothing and disregards the time, work, degrees, and teaching/coaching that I’ve done to focus on the negative. This is super normal, and actually not a problem if you know what to do.


That voice still happens in my head, it’s my learned (ego) brain. It creates drama in my life and tells me things that will create the least amount of change for me (because change to the primitive brain basically means death…). But when we have clarity of mind and can recognize the really negative thoughts our brain is trying to throw at us, we gain the ability to not believe those thoughts.


Let’s dive into this… When your brain tells you you’re not good enough, how do you respond? Are you extremely positively motivated? Are you excited about your future? Probably not.


When this happens to me, I want to melt into my sofa and play Animal Crossing on my Nintendo Switch for hours. See? That thought “You’re not good enough” creates no forward momentum, no positive motivation, if any motivation at all. This voice is there to stifle change for the sake of survival (a software function in the brain that is extremely outdated because of where we are as a society).


I’m also here to offer: You don’t have to believe your thoughts.


We can commit to believing that everything has happened how it was meant to, not as some silver lining crap, but to believe you can create the amazing life you’ve always wanted from where you currently are. That feels a lot different than "I’m not good enough."


This isn’t easy, it takes dedication, it takes time. It takes journaling, self-reflection, and getting to know who you are, how you feel, and what you believe.


In a world that so readily supports numbing out that part of life with endless instant gratification (Animal Crossing/TikTok/Instagram etc.). Sit with yourself when you’re going through a hard time. Tell yourself it’s okay, and just get curious about those thoughts that are making you feel inadequate. The worst thing that’s going to happen in this moment is an emotion. Having the courage to feel through these experiences is nothing to sneeze at. Not very many people do this work.


Now, if you’re a teacher, these moments are where you get your superpowers. The more deeply you are able to understand your mind, the more deeply you are able to understand your students. You’re able to speak their language, not because you’ve accomplished so much, but because you’ve successfully navigated failures. Your ability to speak to these moments are incredibly powerful to students, because the gap between where they are and where they want to be (where you are), becomes attainable all of a sudden. Seriously don’t discount the power of that. It paves a path of possibility in the student’s mind, sometimes that’s all they need.


If you’re a student going through a hard time and you see picture-perfect careers/accomplishments/wins etc. know that there’s an entire real life being lived by those people that is great half the time and is really hard and negative half the time.


So many people are sold on the fact that there is some sort of magical land of happiness once we check all the boxes… There isn’t. You will be a human with a brain in every circumstance, so looking inward during tough times will make you infinitely more able to manage your mind for the rest of your life. You’re already in the land of happiness if you choose to see it that way, and who said the land of happiness doesn't include negative emotions sometimes? Food for thought.

 

If you're interested in taking this work further, or maybe you're having a tough time, sign up for a consultation! You, me, 1 hour on zoom or on the phone. We can talk about what you can do to gain that mental clarity.


All my best,


Chelsea

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