How to Get Value From a Failure

I have not Failed...

A few months ago, I was talking with a close girlfriend of mine who was going through a difficult divorce.  “I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut,” she said, explaining that she was truly shocked to find herself in this situation.  She shared with me that because no one in her immediate family had ever been divorced, she remained in the marriage much longer than was healthy for all involved.  But now that the divorce was in progress, she felt embarrassed, she felt alone and she felt as if she had failed herself and her family.

I could absolutely relate to experiencing many of those feeling when my business failed in 2009.  I found myself $2 million in debt, severely depressed and full of feelings of worthlessness, shame and self-doubt.  I shared with my friend that once I began to reframe my business failure and decided that there were incredible lessons that I could learn from it, my life immediately began to change.  I shared with her (and now with you) the three steps I took to begin taking control of my destiny by embracing the lessons that my failure had taught me.

Step 1:  How did I get here?

One of the most important steps in reclaiming your life after a major setback, financial or otherwise, is understanding exactly how you arrived in your current situation.  This will require you to take an honest look at your habits and decision-making.

  • Did you marry a person with whom you were never truly compatible?
  • Did you purchase the maximum home for which you qualified?
  • Did you actively work to try to fulfill your partner’s needs?
  • Did you live above your means?
  • Did you have children too soon in the marriage?
  • Did you have 6 months of living expenses saved?

In my case, I began investing my own personal savings to try to keep my business afloat after the market had clearly shifted and ended up in my financial situation.  My friend said that although she never felt that they were compatible, she accepted her husband’s proposal solely because she knew he would be a good father and she wanted to begin having children soon.  Whatever helped you to arrive in your particular situation, work to clearly identify it and be able to understand it.  It is important that you do this without judging yourself but also without making excuses.  Make the analysis very factual and matter of fact.  It is simply an account of what happened.

Step 2:  How could this have been avoided?

There are very few things that happen to us in life that are completely unavoidable.  Even things that we believe we had absolutely no control over, such as a car accident, if we are honest with ourselves, chances are we can go back to a point where a different decision could have changed our outcome.  To determine what actions you could have taken to avoid your current situation, review the analysis from the previous section.  On the top of a sheet of paper, write down in pencil an item from your analysis.  Do not use pen and make sure to use a pencil with an eraser.  Now, using an ink pen, go back and write three to four things that you could have feasibly done differently that could have prevented the situation.  Be sure to leave five or six lines in between each idea.

For example, I discovered that I ended me up in my situation by investing my own personal savings trying to keep my business afloat after the market shifted. Things I could have done differently included adjusting our company’s business model to meet current market demands, hiring virtual staff members requiring less office space, layoff less essential staff members sooner, etc.

During our conversation, my friend agreed that there were many things she could have done differently to avoid her current situation.  She said that she could have been more honest regarding the concerns around their compatibility; she could have decided to adopt a child or become artificially inseminated.

Again, this exercise is not about making yourself wrong or making you feel bad; it is very important to keep the information factual and non-judgmental.  After each idea for things you could have done differently, write down what emotional responses that choice (or not making that choice) might be tied to for you.

For me, I like things that are familiar and consistent.  I order the same food each time I go to a restaurant, I use the same color nail polish each time I go to the salon and I had actually worn the same hair style for nearly 20 years.  I believe that because my family relocated from house to house a lot when I was a young person, in my adult life, I do whatever I can to ensure that my life is stable and consistent and often avoid making choices that require anything to change.  Therefore, my decision not to shift my business model in response to the changes in the economy would certainly be tied to my desire for consistency and resistance to change.

Similarly, my friend admitted that she had grown up in a loving, family oriented household and that you did whatever it took for the happiness of your family.  She felt that it mattered more that she find a man who would be a wonderful father to her children and whether or not he would be a wonderful husband was far less important.

After completing these exercises, go back and reread them. Make sure that you truly understand and remind yourself that you are in control. Now that you understand how you got here, how you could have prevented your setback and what your previous decision-making with tied to, you now have the power to make different choices in the future. Remind yourself that everything you need for your success has always been and will always be inside of you. Your work from here on out will be back to ensure to use your power to obtain the successful future you want and deserve.

Step 3:  Commit to little changes

Now that you know where where you’ve been, what decisions led you there and what emotions those decisions were tied to, it’s now time to commit to the changes necessary to start you on your road to recovery and forgiveness.  On the same paper you were using before, using a different color ink, write small ways that you can practice to strengthen your decision-making around the emotional sources for your previous choices.  These should not be big overwhelming life altering changes; they should be something simple, practical and easy to do just to allow you to exercise this muscle in a safe, non-threatening way.

For example, now that I understand that my desire for consistency allowed me to maintain an outdated business model says I need to strengthen my ability to accept change.  For my changes, I initially committed to increasing my nail polish choices from one color to five colors and wore three different hairstyles in a three-month period.  Once I did that, other choices became easier; I have since found myself trying new restaurants, eating different foods and becoming more creative in my clothing choices.  My girlfriend also committed to some small changes once she understood that her desire to put the needs of her family before her own personal needs allowed her to commit to a marriage that never fulfilled her personal needs.  Her little changes included reallocating a small percentage of her children’s ‘activity’ budget for a monthly spa visit for herself and committing to at least one vacation every two years without her children.

By committing to and making these little changes in our lives, both my girlfriend and I began to release ourselves from emotional patterns that did not serve us.  We both soon found that when it was time to make bigger decisions, we recognized when our choices were tied to those old non-supportive emotional patterns of the past.  Once we could recognize it, it became easier to make choices that supported our goals and honored our priorities.

Both business and marriage contains peaks and valleys that we all experience.  The value of failure is that it contains unique opportunities for learning and growth that we may not have attained had we maintained the status quo.  Once we can see these failures in a new light and truly honor the lessons we were taught, we can begin to use them to fuel our successes in love, business and life.

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