Rising Above Failure
How to Turn Adversity Into Advantage
After earning her doctorate in sociology and teaching for nearly seven years at a university, Francis (a pseudonym) came up for tenure review by her school's faculty committee. Her department head recommended tenure. Francis' students gave her excellent ratings for her commitment and skill at teaching. In addition, she had published two books and several professional articles. Nevertheless, the tenure committee deemed her publications "not scholarly enough" and discounted the recommendation of the department director and the student evaluations. Francis was denied tenure and that obligated her to leave the university.
"When I first learned I didn't receive tenure, I was really hurt, but I quickly decided that I would not permit the rejection by my colleagues to be a fatal blow," she explained to a friend. "I made the intentional decision to learn from the experience and to seek out a position at a school which shared my interests."
Not surprisingly, a few months later she was offered a tenure-track position at a college that emphasized teaching - her true passion. The hiring committee as well as the school president assured Francis she would have sufficient time to do the research that interested her. In addition, her new colleagues were as enthusiastic about their commitment to teaching as she was.
That professor is an excellent example of someone who did not allow one experience to devastate her and destroy her dream. She chose to tower over failure. The fact is that every person will, at one time or another, experience the missing of a mark, a failure in achieving a goal, a disappointing conclusion, a downfall. That reality, however, must be balanced by this greater reality: Failure is never final. By doing some re-thinking and taking a few creative steps, a setback can be transformed into a comeback. Here are seven key ways to rise above failure.
1 Look for the lesson. People who make it a habit to study the psychology of failure are unanimous in their declaration that failure provides vital, positive lessons that cannot be found in other experiences. Og Mandino, author of numerous inspiration and self-help books, including A Better Way To Live, notes: "There is nothing better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve."
A popular Japanese proverb declares: "Failure teaches success." American philosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is defeat which educates us." And writer Elbert Green Hubbard wisely notes that the only true failure is the person who doesn't learn the lesson from the experience: "A failure is a person who has blundered but is not able to cash in on the experience," he says.
A good way to begin the process of learning from the experience is by analyzing your circumstances. Ask yourself these kinds of questions:
Be careful not to use this self evaluation in a negative, harsh way. Simply and objectively look back at the experience to gain insight and then decide how to do things differently in the future.
2 Turn a crisis into a coup. As soon as you experience the blow of failure, resolve to transform the adversity into advantage. Every event, no matter how initially distasteful and disappointing it feels, can be helpful if viewed that way. Defeat can create greater resolve; endings can open doors to new beginnings. Make a failure work for you, not against you. Be guided by these words from poet Arthur Gutterman, "In life as in football, fall forward when you fall."
Consider what happened to Michael Fowler, who turned a layoff into a financial gain. When he was laid off, he was earning $40,000 a year as a technical editor in San Jose, California. Within a year his salary jumped to $90,000 as a technical writer, and he was doing more enjoyable work. As a result of the layoff, "I've more than doubled my salary," Fowler says. "It (the layoff) forced me to take big leaps. While it's been stressful, it's been exciting. Finally, I have a little bit of money in the bank. It's been liberating.
3 View failure as merely one of life's hurdles to overcome. The next time you are feeling discouraged about a personal or professional setback, consider the hurdles Erik Weihermayer has overcome. Erik has worked as a middle-school teacher, run marathons, and performed acrobatic skydiving stunts. He's also a scuba diver, downhill skier, and long-distance bicyclist. Those are impressive accomplishments for any 32-year-old.
However, Erik has been blind since age 13, when a degenerative eye disease destroyed his retinas. Being blind has not prevented him from embracing all life has to offer. Recently, Erik hit a new personal high by becoming the first blind climber to reach the top of Mount Everest, the tallest challenge in the world for any mountaineer. "I just kept telling myself: 'Be focused,'" Erik explained to a news reporter. "Be full of energy. Keep relaxed. Don't let all those distractions - the fear and the doubt - creep into your brain, because that's what ruins you up there." That's great advice for climbing any mountain, whether it's made of stones and rocks or something more personal and emotionally painful.
4 If you fail once, simply try and try again. That is a formula that worked very well for the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw, who said, "When I was young, I observed that nine out of every 10 things I did were failures, so I did 10 times more work."
5 Protect your mind. Don't be seduced by the idea that a single failure means you are a complete failure. Avoid compounding one failure into many by shaming and blaming yourself unduly. Protect your mind by monitoring what you think. Accentuate the positive and modify the negative. Such positive thinking contributed greatly to Arnold Palmer's success as a golfer. Although he has won hundreds of trophies and awards, the only trophy in his office is a battered little cup he received for his first professional win at the Canadian Open in 1955.
In addition to that cup, he has a lone framed plaque on the wall. That plaque explains why Palmer has been successful on and off the golf course. It reads:
If you think you are beaten, you are. If you think you dare not, you don't. If you like to win but think you can't, it's almost certain you won't.
Life's battles don't always go to the stronger woman or man. But sooner or later, those who win are those who think they can.
6 Speak in ways that empower your mind. The words we use have a tremendous impact on our quality of life. Some words diminish and destroy us while others expand and empower us. Choose to think and speak with words that move you from a victim to a victor. Here are some examples:
Rather than say I should, say I could.
Rather than say I hope, say I will.
Rather than say It's not my fault, say I am responsible for my life.
Rather than say It's a big problem, say It's a big opportunity.
Rather than say Life is a struggle, say Life is an adventure.
Rather than say This is terrible, say This is a learning experience.
Rather than say If only, say Next time.
Rather than say It's hopeless, say I will find ways to open a new door.
Rather than say, This is a bitter experience, say I want to learn and grow from the experience.
7 Recommit to your goals. Failure is not falling down. True failure is remaining where you have fallen. Do not allow yourself to be frozen in place because you have experienced a failure. Rise up, recommit to your goals and go at it. Again.
"A failure is not someone who has tried and failed; it is someone who has given up trying and resigned himself to failure; it is not a condition, but an attitude," observes journalist Sydney J. Harris.
When Dr. Laurence J. Peter first submitted his manuscript, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, to McGraw-Hill Publishers in 1964, an editor wrote back: "I can foresee no commercial possibilities for such a book and consequently can offer no encouragement." In spite of that negative response to his work, Dr. Peter continued to query publishing houses. Thirty publishers and 30 rejections later, William Morrow & Company paid a mere $2,500 for the manuscript and ordered a printing of 10,000 copies. It sold more than 200,000 copies in its first year, was on the New York Times best-seller list through 1970 and was translated into 38 languages. The lesson is clear: Those who see their dreams come true are those who renew their dedication to their goals.
Finally, it is important to remind yourself that failure is not the finish line. It ought to be viewed for what it really is: a setback, a temporary event and ultimately, a situation that can be regulated, rectified, remedied, repaired and risen above.