Your Best Moment

Navigate Failure Like a Pro

Dust in the water

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A clear pool of water.

A violent storm passes through.

The sandy, mucky bottom is disturbed and the water is no longer clear. Navigating underwater is no longer possible until the dust settles.

And yet…most of us who are driven in our goals and passions insist on pushing through the disturbed, mucky waters even when we can no longer see clearly.

Our whole lives we receive the message that if we fail at something, we just need to try harder, push harder, work harder until we find success. But often in that process, our vision and the way we treat ourselves suffer. Eventually we lose ourselves, forget our Why and burnout sets in.

I have had some major “failures” in my time – failed performances, failed relationships, failed business opportunities. But one of the most important things I have learned through all the failures is that our hardest times are when we have to be the gentlest with ourselves.

When we feel the most vulnerable, when we have given our all to something and it hasn’t turned out the way we thought it “should,” that is not the time to become more militant and demand more results from ourselves. All that does is reinforce performance-based self-worth.

During our most difficult times, sometimes the best thing to do is to ease up a bit.

There have been countless times in my journey where I have used this principle. When I keep pushing myself after a failure without stopping to evaluate where I am, I usually can’t see the forest for the trees.

My perspective is skewed by disappointed expectations and self-judgment at that point. You can’t navigate in a storm without paying attention to the condition of the ship. Simply being more driven is not the answer.

When life disappoints our expectations, we have to slow down, reassess the waters, assess the condition of the ship, and gain new perspective. Sometimes all you need is a little time to pass in order to do the proper assessments, like in the 24 Hour Rule.

Other times you need concrete steps to take to know how best to proceed. Here are three ways you can be gentler with yourself during a hard time in order to be successful:

  1. Slow down. Don’t just push harder toward the goal if you sense that you are close to burnout or that your worth is suffering because of the failures you have experienced. Notice what went wrong, how you are feeling about it, and how it affects your drive toward your goal.
  1. Accept it. So you didn’t win the competition. Maybe you felt like you made a fool of yourself in the presentation. The harsh reality is that it is what it is. You can’t change the past. You can’t change other people, places, or things. You are disappointed, frustrated even, and that is just the present state of things. That’s ok, so do what you need to do to find acceptance.
  1. Invite a higher-level perspective. After you slow down and accept where you are, you have cleared the way for a bird’s-eye view of your situation to come. It’s like letting the dust settle after a storm. Often times, we don’t see the purpose behind a “failure” until much later. But when we let the dust settle, a new level of clarity about our direction becomes apparent.

It does no good to push ourselves beyond our capacity when we are already stretched to the limit by disappointment or failure. The best things we can do are look at where we are as a new spot and then actually take the time to determine the wisest next steps.

Being gentle doesn’t mean being weak or wasting time.

It means taking the time to arrive at the very best perspective that will lead to an effective plan of action. And our character will grow faster if we are gentle than if we were to blindly advance in the path of our last direction that didn’t get us where we wanted to go.

So get the right perspective, then get up and go for it!

Have you ever tried to just keep pushing yourself when maybe you would have benefitted from being gentler?

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10 Responses

  1. Ann Musico says:

    I must admit, Elyssa, I have been guilty of doing what you describe. And just as you said, it doesn’t work! I found it was much easier for me to be gentle and understanding of others than it was to be that way towards myself. But I have learned to just stop and reassess and get the bigger picture. It’s not the end of the world – although depending on the failure sometimes it can certainly feel that way. I have learned to tell myself – it is what it is, but God has the final Word. Then I can just let the dust settle as you say and see the situation more clearly. More often than not there is a gem of opportunity that wasn’t visible immediately. Thanks for another very practical and wise post!

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Ann – Great point about being easier on others than we are on ourselves. I think that is true for a lot of us. And I like your line, “It is what it is, but God has the final word.” Great wisdom!

  2. Celeste Martinez says:

    Elyssa – Thanks for reminding us of what we forget when we’re in the middle of great disappointment. The key to clarity is slowing down.

  3. Kent Julian says:

    I’ve also found it helpful to connect with wise, insightful mentors. Always gain a better perspective by talking/listening to them.

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Absolutely, Kent. The perspective of someone we trust who is outside the situation is always a benefit.

  4. Sarah says:

    This is all so true. The last few months have been really hard on me, what with work failures, illness, pregnancy … it’s literally been the toughest time in my life. Oddly, now that you mention it, my response to this is to grind on myself rather than easing up and being gentle. But that really doesn’t serve any purpose but to make things feel harder and to muddy the water even more, as each self-defeating thought saps your faith and lessens your ability to believe even more. I’m going to try to remember these steps next time, because they’re so important!

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Sarah – I was just telling a client of mine the other day that she needed to be extra gentle to herself because of all the things stacking up against her inner peace. She had been saying that she needed to gear up and bear down this week because of everything coming her way, and she had no grace for herself. She wasn’t planning in time to take care of her own needs! I encouraged her to choose one baby step each day to take care of herself in a way she wasn’t originally planning to. I think any time pregnancy, work issues, or illness are factors, we need an automatic doubling of grace on ourselves! Take care of YOU and the rest will follow – go girl!

  5. Dan Black says:

    This is a fantastic post! I tend to push myself too hard when it comes to writing and building my online platform. I have to keep in mind my first and most important areas of responsibilities which is my faith, family, and job. The rest of my time can then be focused on writing and platform building. I’m getting use to easing the burden of not reaching my writing or online goals.

    • Elyssa Smith Elyssa Smith says:

      Dan – So glad you liked it! I can definitely relate to pushing too hard. It really takes practice to align with our true priorities and be ok with other things not getting done.

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