by Jenny Hansen
I just watched a video by one of my favorite motivational speakers, Simon Sinek, where he states: "There is a big difference between 'falling' and 'failing.'"
How powerful is that? So many authors suffer terrible anxiety over their fear of failure. "Failure" often sounds so very catastrophic. What if we changed our language and called it "falling" instead? Maybe falling down is normal. Maybe it is okay.
The video, which is only two and a half minutes, was an a-ha moment for me.
A look at how to reframe failure
Failure’s got such a crappy reputation because it makes most people feel bad. No one likes to feel painful emotions. According to this wonderful article at VeryWell Mind, there are several practices that can help take the sting out of a perceived failure.
1. Embrace Your Emotions
Uncomfortable emotions like embarrassment, anxiety, anger, sadness, and shame are hard to manage. This article offers the thought that “allowing yourself to feel the emotions is motivating. It can help you work harder to find better solutions so that you’ll improve next time.”
2. Recognize Unhealthy Attempts to Reduce Pain
Minimizing pain doesn’t make it go away. Distractions and escapism just kick the pain down the road.
3. Learn and Practice Healthy Coping Skills
Call a friend, play with a pet, or practice positive self-care like exercise, meditation, or a quiet bubble bath. These are all healthy ways to deal with pain. Find what works for you.
4. Acknowledge Irrational Beliefs About Failure
Does anyone else have those irrational beliefs about failure? That crazy head tape is the worst part of growing up with a narcissist – they say it to you first, then you then say it to yourself.
It took me years to stop the internal monologue that says failure means you’re “bad” or unlikable or that you’ll never succeed. Being able to reframe failure was such a relief.
Examples of more realistic thoughts:
- I can try again tomorrow.
- It's okay to fail sometimes.
- I can handle this.
- I can learn from this.
- Failure is a sign that I’m challenging myself to do something difficult.
5. Accept Responsibility for ONLY Your Part
Many of those irrational failure monologues encourage us to take responsibility for a bunch of crap that’s not our fault. In simpler terms: you’re only responsible for cleaning up your own side of the street.
6. Revel in Your Good Company
Lots of people fall down. Thomas Edison and Walt Disney are two of the most famous. Jack London’s Call of the Wild was rejected more than 900 times. We are in a business with an enormous “failure rate.” Remember, you only need one person to say "yes" to set you on your path to success.
7. Create a Plan and Don’t Dwell
When you fall down, get up. Very few great plans are made from the fetal position.
You can always make a plan once you’ve forced yourself to get up, to stop dwelling on what didn’t go right. Great plans come from focusing on what you will do, and especially what you will do differently. Step one is always to pick yourself up after you fail. Check yourself for actual and metaphorical bruises. Apply "ice" to those wounds in the form of the suggestions in #3 above.
The Most Self-Destructive Behavior
A word on the most self-destructive behavior I've watched us creative types engage in: comparison. Worrying about someone else's strategy or success is crazy-making. (And a guaranteed way to help you down the path to perceived failure.)
I love Laura Drake's "Writer Pep Talk," which is perfect for this situation. It's short and it's simple:
"No one gets it all."
Say it slow with me now.
No. One. Gets. It. All.
She said that to me for years before my head cleared enough to hear her. I was a struggling young mother and it was a vast relief to let some of my perfectionist burdens slide off my aching shoulders.
It's a simple, logical fact that most of us are truly great at only a few things. And maybe not so great at other things. Some of us are great at writing dialogue and terrible at writing body language. (*raises hand*) Some people have great discipline, but no ideas. Others can write short but not long. Some writers struggle with storytelling or world-building or grammar. But no one gets it all.
So why do so many writers believe they have to be good at everything or they are failures?
My Young Epiphany
Laura's advice helped Baby Writer Me keep going. Accepting that "no one gets it all" allowed me to imagine creative ways I could acquire more than I had, especially as a new mother. Maybe I could share the load...let someone see the first draft...hire a housecleaner or a virtual assistant.
I began to think that maybe that most hideous of all "S-words" (should) could go suck an egg.
I realized I could fall down, without feeling like my world would fall down around me.
A Novel Idea (pun intended)
I'm sharing Sinek's advice so I'm not the only one following this road to a better mindset. His advice, "to grow our own strengths, rather than be intimidated by the strengths of others," is so powerful for writers. (Plus, I always share the good stuff with my peeps here at WITS.)
I'm proposing we take failure out of the equation, and simply called it "falling." That we embrace the belief that we can always get back up and try again, maybe with a friend or fellow writer who can give us the encouragement we need.
I'm proposing that it's okay to fall down.
What are your thoughts on "failing" vs "falling down?" Do you struggle with any of this? Please share your thoughts with us down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.