What To Do When You Feel Like a Failure

I get it. Oh, I get it. I cannot express how much I get it. That feeling that you just aren’t good at either something you really want to be good at, or, actually, that you’re just not good at anything at all. That you suck at something, or that you suck at life. Feeling like a failure eats away at you. It’s relentless. And, the more you think about how much you feel like a failure, the more like a failure you feel. It gets worse and worse.

The truth is, maybe right now you are a “failure”. But the truth is also that you can either re-frame it to see that you are not, in fact, a failure – you can redefine who and what a failure is to you – or you can take action steps right now so that you stop feeling like a failure.

And this is a hard. It’s a process. I have felt like a failure for years for not going after my dreams. And the more I didn’t go after them, the more like a failure I felt. More and more, day after day. I have been so far in the hole of feeling like a failure that I could not see out, and dug myself an even deeper hole. Or, more, I could see a way out, but I didn’t do anything to get out of the hole because it’s freaking hard.

But, here’s the thing. YOU CANNOT GO ON LIKE THAT. You CANNOT feel like a failure your whole life. That is just a waste of a life. Instead, you have to do something about it. You have to do something about it even though it feels hard. You have to do something about it even though it feels like nothing you do will work, that nothing you do will make you successful or make you feel any better.

But it will. Trust me when I say it will. If you can get yourself working through this, you can get to the other side, and you can stop feeling like a failure. You can stop feeling this way. Remember – when nothing goes right go left.

Buddha quote on failure - “The only real failure 
in life is not to be true 
to the best one knows.”

Why You Feel Like a Failure

The only reason you feel like a failure is because you feel like your life, your circumstances, or any situation you are currently in does not match what you think it should be. That is it. The great thing about that is it’s really, really simple. There’s nothing else to figure out – your situation does not match the vision you have of what that situation should be.

Think about it. Let’s say you were passed up for a promotion at work. You feel like a failure. Why is that? Well, it’s because you pictured yourself being promoted. You expected to be promoted. You thought you should be promoted. But you weren’t. So your life situation does not match what you think it should be, and so you feel like a failure.

Another example. You desperately want your business to succeed and give you your full-time income, but right now it’s not. You aren’t making enough money from it to live off and you feel like a failure. You feel like a failure because you picture yourself making your money from your business. Right now you’re not, so you feel like a failure.

In my situation, I felt like a failure for years because I wasn’t getting closer to becoming a Film Director. I would look at other people being successful and feel like a massive failure because I wasn’t there.

Charles F Kettering quote on failure - “An inventor fails 999 
times, and if he succeeds 
once, he’s in. He treats 
his failures simply 
as practice shots.”

Where This Feeling of Failure is Rooted

The reason we let ourselves feel this way – that we are a failure because our life circumstances don’t match how we think they should be – is because of our beliefs: our beliefs about ourselves; our beliefs about the world around us, and our beliefs about what things mean.

We believe that we are failures if our lives don’t match what we envision for ourselves. That is part of our identity that we have set for ourselves.

And it is a really debilitating belief to have. I mean, think about it. How often does our life situation really match what we want? I would say… hardly ever. There will always be something more we want, that’s human nature. So why do we go in to it setting ourselves up for failure? It makes no sense. Why would we have a belief that means we will almost always feel like a failure?

Confucius quote on failure - “Our greatest glory 
is not in never failing, 
but in rising every 
time we fail.”

Where Beliefs About Failure Come From and How We Change Them

This certainly deserves a longer post, but beliefs come both from the world around us and from ourselves. We get beliefs implanted in us from a very young age by our elders, our peers, and the world around us in general. How often did you hear things growing up, or even now, like “money doesn’t grow on trees”, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “failure is not an option”? Or how about things such as, “2nd place is 1st loser”, “you need straight-As to do well in the future”, “success is for everyone else”?

We hear these things throughout our lives and they put an impression on us. Our brains start to believe them if we are not careful. When we are younger we are certainly more impressionable, but these sayings can really get deep-seated in us even as adults. We hear them all the time, and, more often than not, take them for granted. But have we ever taken the time to actually question them? If we start believing these sayings without questioning them, we are asking for a world of hurt.

And it’s not just sayings that make us believe these things. The attitudes of those around us – friends and family members – what we watch, the media, news outlets… they all play a role.

But do we want to be defined by other people’s belief systems? Heck no we don’t! You should never let people define how you think. Instead, you must CHOOSE how you think. You must CHOOSE what to believe.

Henry Ford quote on failure - “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Define Yourself

Here’s the thing, here’s the important thing. YOU decide. YOU decide what to believe, what to think about, how to react to things. YOU decide what to believe.

It’s really that simple. If you have figured out that you have certain beliefs that are limiting you, then know that you can simply decide to believe something different.

And if that sounds too simple, I ask you, “Who cares? Who cares if it’s simple?” It IS that simple. It doesn’t have to be harder than that. Up until this point, you have likely had your beliefs constructed by the world around you. Well why can’t it be simple to decide that you won’t let that happen anymore? Why can’t it be simple to say you are going to CHOOSE what to believe?

If beliefs are not universal (which, surely they aren’t if people all believe different things), then you can surely believe something different than what you have been believing up until this point. Surely you can believe something different to people around you that instil these limiting beliefs in you.

Believe that you can believe differently. Believe that you can believe differently.

Wouldn’t you rather start fresh, wipe away your limiting beliefs, and install new beliefs that help you? Choose to only believe the things that help you, that move you forwards.

It really is that simple.

It is really, really important to not let yourself be defined by other people. You have to define yourself. You have to choose who you want to be and be accountable to that. If you let other people define you, then you will always be acting in a way that lives up to their expectations, rather than your own.

JK Rowling quote on failure - “It is impossible to live without 
failing at something, unless 
you live so cautiously that you 
might as well not have lived 
at all, in which case 
you have failed by default.”

What to Believe Instead

It’s important for you to figure out what you need to believe in order to help yourself. If you are feeling like a failure because your life doesn’t match what you think it should, and you think your life should be like everyone else says it should be (based on their beliefs), then you need to make a change.

For example, if you feel like a failure because you don’t own a house and all your friends do, or you’re not married and everyone else is, or you don’t have a stable career but everyone around you seems to be doing so well, but you don’t really want those things… then you need to change your beliefs around what being a success and being a failure is.

The change you need to make is to adjust your beliefs to ones that help you lead the life YOU want to lead.

Let’s say you want to be an artist. Perhaps that means you don’t have a regular income, which likely means you won’t be able to get a mortgage and buy a house. But your art means more to you than owning a house. THAT’S OKAY. But you need to believe that that is okay. You need to believe that failure is not in not having a house, but failure would be not going after your dream of being an artist.

Or let’s say you want to start your own business but you are not making money from it, and you feel like a failure because your friends are out buying new cars and going for fancy dinners all the time. Well, do you want to define yourself as a failure because you don’t have the income that supports that lifestyle yet, or do you want to define yourself as a success because you are going out and attempting something you really want to? Are you a success because you are putting your all in to something? I would say that would be a better belief to have.

George Eliot quote on failure - “Failure after long 
perseverance is much 
grander than never to 
have a striving good 
enough to be 
called a failure.”

The Only Real Failure

And doesn’t that lead in to the real point? About people’s definition of a failure. You may feel like a failure because you don’t have what society tells you that you should have. You may feel like a failure because you haven’t achieved what it is you want to achieve yet.

But that is not what failure is.

The only real failure is not going after the things that YOU actually want. I don’t care what it is. It will be different for everyone. If you care about it, and you really want that thing, that experience, that adventure, then you have to go after that. Because if you aren’t going after something that you really want in life, then that is the only failure. The failure of giving up, of giving in, in not living truly.

George Bernard Shaw quote on failure - “A life spent making 
mistakes is not only more 
honorable but more 
useful than a life 
spent in doing nothing.”

How To Get Over Feeling Like a Failure

The process of stopping feeling like a failure is really simple. But the process is likely going to be hard, because you are used to feeling this way, and the process of changing how you have felt for a long time is hard. But these steps will help you feel better, as long as you work at them, as long as you focus on them, as long as you do them:-

Don’t let it spiral.

You have to catch this issue where it is NOW. You have to stop it. Any time you feel like a failure, you must recognise it, and begin the process of moving on from it. Do not let the thoughts get bigger and bigger and spiral in your mind.

Define what a failure is to you and define what a success is to you.

Having realised that you feel like a failure, question why you feel that way. Do you have an opportunity to reframe that definition of a failure? Can you find success in what you are doing? Are you really failing by your own definition? What would you need to do in order to succeed? What would success in this situation look like to you?

One note, here: When you are defining what a success would be to you, make sure you don’t set your definition to something that is extremely hard or almost impossible to attain. It’s great to have big visions and goals, but make sure your success definition is something you can see yourself doing and working towards. As you reach that level, you can then adjust it higher. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot from the outset.

Take action.

Once you know what you need to do in order to succeed, you need to start doing that thing. Know that it might take time and it might be hard, but if you keep going and you keep doing it, then you will feel better. You will find a way. You will be a success on your own terms.

Repeat & Adjust.

As you go along this path of taking action towards that thing that will make you feel successful, you will find obstacles, you will find that some things go wrong. You will have to make adjustments. But that is okay. Just keep asking yourself what will make you feel successful, what will define you as being successful on YOUR terms, and then go after that. Take action on that. If you find yourself feeling like a failure, go back to point 1. and carry on.

Robert T Kiyosaki quote on failure - “Winners are not afraid 
of losing. But losers 
are. Failure is part 
of the process of success. 
People who avoid failure 
also avoid success.”

Will I Always Feel Like a Failure?

If you define what a failure really is to you and you do the things that move you away from that, if you define what a success is to you (and you make that definition attainable) and you do the things that move you towards that, and if you keep adjusting so that you are always moving forwards, focusing on and increasing your positive definitions of success and doing the things that will get you there, then you will stop feeling like a failure and, instead, you will feel like a success.

And, remember. – The only person you should feel accountable to is yourself. And that’s a big deal because you know what will make you feel good about yourself and what will make you feel bad about yourself.

And remember this, too. – With that, you actually have to do the things that will make you feel good about yourself. Otherwise you will never feel successful.

Further Reading

If you’re dealing with regret, which it is highly likely you are if you feel like a failure, maybe these quotes on regret will help you start to think differently about your situation.

This feeling of failure often couples feeling like you’ve wasted your life or when you feel like you’ve wasted time in your life, so check those posts out if that’s the case for you.

One thing that could really help you is to make some new resolutions. Resolutions are simply decisions to do or not do something going forwards, and they can really help with these feelings of failure. I wrote this post on making a New Year’s resolutions essay that could be useful for you. Even if it’s not New Year’s, the principles behind it could really help you.

Disclaimer: Nothing on this website should be taken as medical or other professional advice. You should always seek the advice of a professional, qualified person.  

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