Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. We do not fail overnight. Failure is the inevitable result of an accumulation of poor thinking and poor choices. To put it more simply, failure is nothing more than a few errors in judgment repeated every day.
Now why would someone make an error in judgment and then be so foolish as to repeat it every day? The answer is because he or she does not think that it matters.
If you’re alive, and especially if you are living a life well-lived, you will experience pain. How you deal with this pain, and thus how you deal with failure, is what will make or break your character.
"I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, and torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage.” ~Nietzsche
Life is pain. Whether it’s the simple pain of failure, or the complex pain of death-anxiety. Whether it’s the simple pain of hunger, or the complex pain of wrestling with your demons. If you’re alive, and especially if you are living a life well-lived, you will experience pain.
How you deal with this pain, and thus how you deal with failure, is what will make or break your character. Disposition is the thing. Temperament is more of a gauge than happiness or sadness. Your flexibility and openness will ultimately decide the robustness of your spirit. With that in mind, here are ten ways to transform failure into success.
Apply the Backwards Law:
“The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” ~Mark Manson
Also known as the law of reversed effort, the backwards law is a quirky little perceptual feedback loop that can turn anyone’s brain into a pretzel.
Basically, when we dwell on wanting a positive experience, we are highlighting our lack of a positive experience. This highlighting of a lack is itself a negative experience. Which creates a negative feedback loop. The next thing we know, we’re anxious about being anxious.
We’re pissed off about being pissed off. We feel like a failure about being a failure. And that’s the trap.
There comes a point where the only way forward into growth is to accept how shitty our situation is, in the moment. Embracing our failure is itself a success. When we accept the fact that we’re not happy, we create a positive experience. This positive experience may not be happiness itself, but it’s a start. It becomes a foundation for further positivity, despite failure.
Transform demons into diamonds:
“The obstacle is the path.” ~Zen Proverb
Just as the grain within the oyster can be transformed into a pearl, the pain within the human can be transformed into strength. Wounds can become wisdom when we allow ourselves to be curious about how our scarring has made us who we are.
Becoming curious with our deep wounds is honoring them with our attention. When we’re able to honor our wounds, we’re more likely to reconcile our demons. It’s not so much that we suffer less but that we suffer better.
Transforming demons into diamonds is having survived a great tragic something, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually. It’s registering more fully with our suffering and, instead of turning away or repressing it, we come out the other side of the cocoon able to “fly” with it. Our wounded heart rises up, bloody and bruised, but with bandages trailing behind it like a cape.
Transform failure into a game:
“A person only plays when they are a person in the full sense of the word, and they are fully a person only when they play.” ~Friedrich Schiller
Life is a poker game. You can’t control the cards you’ve been dealt, but you can control how you play them. It’s your responsibility alone to play the hell out of whatever shitty hand you’ve been dealt.
In order to transform failure into success, something's got to give. You cannot self-correct in a vacuum. You must embrace that vacuum and squeeze all the hot air out of it, lest you fall further into failure.
Transforming failure into a game makes you more flexible and less rigid, more adaptable and less intractable, more playful and less serious. Your playfulness will give you courage, which will open you up and transform boundaries into horizons.
Process over Progress:
“Circumstances don’t make the man; they only reveal him to himself.” ~Epictetus
Ironically, focusing on process regardless of progress makes you more likely to progress. When you make process primary and progress secondary, you are more likely to be successful in your pursuits.
It’s all about devoting yourself to a system rather than a goal. Having a goal is just fine. But what happens if you fail? You’re more likely to get lazy or quit completely if you’re focused on a goal that fails than if you’re focused on a system that endures whether you fail or succeed. Having a goal is better than having no goal at all, sure. It’s better than inertia and laziness. But what’s better than having a goal is having a system.
Having a goal is about dreaming. Having a system is about action. It’s about doing. Goals, like failures, just get absorbed in the process of the system. They are subsumed and become more like guideposts than end-results.
Allow yourself to not give a fuck:
“The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore.” ~Rumi
Not giving a fuck is a tricky proposition. You can’t completely not give a fuck because then you’ll just end up perpetually neglectful. But if you give too much of a fuck, you risk taking yourself, and the opinion of others, too seriously.
The question is this: Why do you give a fuck about petty shit when you could give a fuck about magical shit instead? Chances are culture has conditioned you into giving too much of a fuck about petty, unfulfilling shit and not enough of a fuck about magical, fulfilling shit.
Here’s the great part: what’s magical and fulfilling is entirely up to you. But there will always be consequences to your choices. There’s always the greater law of the universe to contend with. Better to align your giving a fuck with the healthy dictates of the cosmos so as to avoid the unhealthy consequences of ignoring them.
Transform your failures into stepping stones:
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” ~Samuel Beckett
Look at each of your failures like hard-earned rungs on the precarious ladder of life. Separated, these rungs are just hardened failures collecting dust in the attic of your suffering, but if you put them together you form a ladder that you can climb up into something meaningful.
Collect your failures like the precious little information engines that they are. Combine them for ultimate combustion.
It’s all a matter of perspective. You can choose to languish in the prospect that your setbacks have nothing to teach you, or you can choose to empower yourself by transforming your setbacks into stepping stones toward something greater.
Have a sense of humor about failing:
“The first principle is to not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool.” ~Richard Feynman
Failing is a part of life. It’s going to happen, a lot, whether you’re lucky or not. Ultimately it comes down to how you respond to failing. Is it cry, cry, cry, or is it laugh, laugh, laugh?
Do we turn the tables on the pain of failure and come at it with a sense of humour, or do we tremble before it with a sense of dread? Do we have hard feelings about it or do we cultivate a disposition of light-heartedness? Do we take it seriously and tighten our grip or do we take it sincerely and loosen up a little?
The ultimate failure is wallowing in being the butt end of the cosmic joke. The ultimate success is flipping the script by laughing at the joke despite being the butt end of it.
Transform failure into art:
“In art and dream, you may proceed with abandon.” ~Pattie Smith
You will fail. You will be shaken. You will not come out unscathed. You will experience much struggle and confusion. If you live long enough, you will have had your heart broken again and again. Welcome to this thing called Life.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. These tragedies that befall you are kindling for artistic fire. They are the emotional paint you can dip into to create something profound and moving.
The art created from such catharsis becomes the art of life. It’s the unfolding of life as art and art as life. What Ernest Becker called our “immortality project.” Which is essentially a creative and heroic engagement with life that creates meaning, purpose, and significance out of meaninglessness, pain, and failure. It’s a way of transforming mortal pain into immortal art.
Let go of your attachment to success:
“My own words are not the medicine, but a prescription; not the destination, but a map to help you reach it. When you get there, quiet your mind and close your mouth. Don’t analyze the Tao. Strive instead to live it: silently, undividedly, with your whole harmonious being.” ~Lao Tzu
There is no perfect state. There is no final enlightenment. Or, if there is, it can only possibly exist in the moment, during the process, unattached to enlightenment. Unattached to success. Or, so completely non-attached to it that one becomes connected to all things through it.
It’s not a destination but a direction. It’s not a truth but a process. It is only achievable when it is understood that it is ultimately unachievable. The only way to find enlightenment is not to seek it, but to simply be it. The same goes for success.
Don’t seek success, be successful. That can only happen in the moment. In the heart of the journey being the thing. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t. Move on to the next moment. Seizing the moment leads to seizing the day leads to seizing a life well-lived.
Transform pain into power:
“Climb the highest mountain and punch the face of God.” ~Courage Wolf
Transforming pain into power is transforming failure into passion. Pain can be your greatest teacher or your ultimate destroyer. In some ways you’ll have a say in which way it goes, and in some ways you won’t. But in the sense that you do have a say, you should make yourself known.
Rise up out of your pain by becoming its student. What you learn will guide you into a robustness of spirit, which will ultimately help you become a force of nature (interdependent), as opposed to merely forced upon by culture (codependent).
The transformation of pain into power becomes a passionate expression of self-overcoming. A fierceness is born that is magnetic. It lights your soul on fire. You become a beacon of light in a dark world, or, even better, a beacon of darkness piercing the blinding light. In short: you become a force to be reckoned with as opposed to a pawn to be toyed with. Despite failure, despite success, the world is yours.
Unleash Your Greatness!