Dylan Manderlink

How to Overcome Failure (and Fear)

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Admitting, coping with, and embracing failure can often be daunting, and uncomfortable.  As a 24 year old, it’s rare that I meet people (especially women) around my age who are comfortable and at peace with the mistakes they’ve made and the failures they’ve experienced both on a professional and personal level.

I am nowhere near being completely at peace with or proud of my personal and professional failures, but I’ve learned to not let my seemingly worst, most stressful, and toughest moments deter me from my goals and ambitions, or lead me to thinking any less of myself.  Above all, I have learned to be thankful for my failures, and to find the opportunity for learning and growth in each one.  From losing a job, relocating to a new part of the country for a significant other (which later didn’t work out) and attempting a job I’ve never done before, to feeling like I’ve failed by not using my expensive college degree, the amount of dwelling and rehashing I’ve done after I’ve failed or have made a significant mistake was never productive.  In actuality, it made the failures that much worse.  As someone who also lives with anxiety, the idea of failing, messing up, hurting someone, or causing a stressful situation for others is nearly catastrophic in my mind, which is one of the reasons I was motivated to speak about my experience with overcoming failure and fear.

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Like many other women I know, I am exceptionally hard on myself and relentlessly unforgiving when I don’t know something, make a mistake, or royally fail.  With that, I am one of the first to admit that I’ve failed or I will convince myself I have when I haven’t (the latter is something I am still working on...changes in mindsets and behaviors don’t happen overnight!).  But, there are many silver linings if you're like me and have been terrified of failure in your professional and personal life.  The paths I have taken to become more accepting of  failure and not having my life go exactly as planned have been trying, full of self-reflection, and stressful at times but have also been both personally and professionally rewarding and helpful.

Here are some ways I have learned to overcome, learn from, and run with my failures:

Realize and repeat to yourself that everyone has experienced setbacks, fears, and failures before.  You are not alone.

Coming to this realization was humanizing and empowering.  Often times when we fail at work or in our love lives, we think this has only happened to us.  There must be something wrong with us, or the world hates us and doesn’t want us to be successful or happy.  But when I started to look at my failures in a less egocentric and ‘oh woe is me’ way, I could feel my self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence repair themselves.  One of the most detrimental things you can do after you’ve experienced a failure or setback is isolate yourself and think these circumstances can only happen to you.  Admitting that we have all failed or will fail at one point is what makes us human.  In fact, it is something we all have in common - it just takes varies in size and shape... When I fail, I remember that I’m not alone in feeling this way.  Sure, it may seem like it at the time when everything is falling apart and I’m frantically picking up the pieces, but coming to terms with the fact that we all fail should be a source of comfort and relief.

Reach out, talk about it, and let it go.

I remember when I failed in one of my first jobs in college and consequently lost that position, I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone.  I was embarrassed, hard on myself, and full of anxiety.  In my mind, I reasoned that if I admitted my failure aloud and discussed it with people, it would be more real and serious.  But in actuality, what I was doing by isolating myself and bottling up my thoughts and concerns was hurting my confidence and wellbeing and delaying any progress in moving forward.  It wasn’t until about a year later when I was ready to apply to my first post-grad job that I started reaching out to people I trusted about my experience with failure and fear in that college position.  Not only were those conversations productive, but they quelled a lot of my professional concerns and helped me feel less alone in my experience.  Additionally, my friends were a great sounding board for me to work out the mistakes I made, problem solve, and find opportunities for growth and improvement in the future.  Now when I feel like I’ve failed or I’m fearful of doing so, instead of wallowing in anxiety, self-doubt, and self-deprecation, I reach out to someone I trust, explain how I’m feeling, and seek productive advice.  Isolating yourself, or not reaching out and seeking advice will prevent any learning from happening, and will push you further into the hole of fear and failure you’re running from.

Identify the lessons learned in your failed moments and use them as motivators.

Although it’s easier said than done, don’t dwell on your failed romantic relationships, jobs you didn’t love, jobs you weren’t optimal in, or mistakes you’ve made in your professional and personal life.  Dwelling and over analyzing past situations only increases stress and makes you feel guilty for failing in the first place.  Instead of harping on your flaws, failures, and setbacks, try identifying and listing out the positive lessons you’ve learned and how you can take those lessons into your next relationship or job.  Not only will identifying the positive outcomes and moments of growth within your failures help you feel more empowered and confident in your experiences but it will also help you feel like you are actively moving forward with your life instead of rethinking the past and wishing things had gone differently.

When I feel like I’ve failed or I’m fearful of doing so, instead of wallowing in anxiety, self-doubt, and self-deprecation, I reach out to someone I trust, explain how I’m feeling, and seek productive advice.

Admit and come to terms with the fact that you will probably continue to fail…and that’s okay.

I recently moved to southeastern Utah to teach elementary school near Navajo Nation.  This position is new to me in so many ways and it has presented challenges and new experiences even in my first few days.  There are times when I fear failing - failing at my first time teaching first grade, failing my students, and failing the local community and fellow staff members.  Although I try to not let those fears weigh on me when I’m in the classroom, it’s real and I recently had to give myself an encouraging and honest self-talk about the possibility of failure and mistake - making and how that’s okay.  If I teach my students that it’s okay to fail and make mistakes, then I need to be more forgiving of myself in that way too.  I may make mistakes (and most likely already have) in my first year teaching elementary school, but if I can admit that, try my hardest, hold myself to an attainable but high expectation, and continue to be my authentic self, when failure does come, I know it will be an opportunity for growth, self-reflection, and progression rather than one of complete failure.

Don’t be hard on yourself all of the time.  Hold yourself to a high and admirable expectation that you are proud of and feel motivated by, but don’t lock yourself in so tightly that you feel like you can never make a mistake or fail.  After all, we are all human and that is a part of life.  It’s great to feel like Superwoman, but don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you feel like you have to be perfect and failure-free all of the time.  If you were that way, you wouldn’t experience the beauty that is growth, self-reflection, and a deep, full perspective on life.

 

Dylan Manderlink is a 20-something first grade teacher in southeastern Utah who is passionate about social justice, the arts, education, environmental preservation, and feminism. She is a graduate of Emerson College and studied a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. Following graduation, she moved to rural Arkansas to teach high school through the national public service program, Teach for America.

 

 

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