If days of the week were graded, then last Tuesday would have been a straight F for me. Not a “welp, you can’t win ‘em all” kind of F. Not the kind of F you can pass off as the result of a cramped midterms week with more tests than time to study for them. The kind of F that makes you actually look up the process for a late withdrawal, because life if just too short and school too expensive to get test scores lower than your age.
The worst part of the day was that I had actually prepared for it, but somehow almost nothing went according to plan. I packed a gym bag but forgot my flip flops, an essential for the shower I would need to take in order to head straight from Planet Fitness to my office. I made it to my favorite campus eatery for lunch, but my wallet was nowhere to be found. And when I reached for my cell phone to check the time, I discovered that it had magically disappeared from the pocket where I was sure I left it. Individually, none of these were life-altering setbacks, but collectively, they disrupted my already packed schedule and distracted me from the real work of the day--my writing and research.
Since becoming a mom 15 months ago, I’ve confronted many days and even months that feel like failure. Whenever challenges arise and we are forced to part ways with plan A, there is a tendency to read those moments as defeats. But I’d like to propose an alternative interpretation. What if success doesn’t always look like an A? What if success is also how we respond to and rebound from the F?
This isn’t the part where I try to convince you that missing the mark feels good. Defeat sucks. Overcoming setbacks is hard work. And I would prefer not to experience a day like last Tuesday ever again. However, since challenges and even breakdowns are part of the messy human condition, it behoves us to figure out how to manage them. Missteps and obstacles will certainly impact our lives and careers, but their power multiplies when we aren’t intentional about how we think about them. In other words, failure in one goal or task can create a domino effect unless we change the way we talk about that failure in our minds.
I was able to get back on track last Tuesday, but not until after I had a pep talk with myself. Here’s the cliff’s notes version: You are going to make mistakes. The important thing is that you are doing the best you can, and that is enough. People forget things all the time, it’s not a crime. Don’t make a big deal out of it. You may not be able to complete everything you planned for today, but something is literally better than nothing.
The next time you’re hit with defeat, create your own pep talk. Better yet, give yourself a pep talk before you face a challenge. Here are some guiding questions to get you started:
Will this defeat matter in the next hour? How about tomorrow?
Is there anything I can do now to minimize the consequences? Make a list.
To err is human. What do I need to forgive myself of? Make a list.
Is this something that happens repeatedly? What adjustments can I make to avoid this setback in the future?
In what ways is this defeat the result of unrealistic expectations? Could I be overestimating my resources, or underestimating my goals?
I really, really want to hear your best advice/mantras for overcoming failure. Email me at email@example.com. I’m counting on it.