The 6 Stages Of A Failure

I am always amazed by how people react when I’m telling them what I do for a living: “I run a personal development blog”. Aside the usual eye rolling when it comes to put “blog” and “make a living” on the same level, they’re all having a sort of a chill. And a little step back. Like they want to have a better look at me.

From now on, they’re either totally ignoring me, putting a permanent “idiot” label on my forehead, either start to treat me like I’m Superman or something. The total opposite of failure, if you know what I mean. (I can’t tell you the exact proportion, though. I’d lean more towards the Superman thing, but the “idiot” team is also pretty strong). Anyway, fact is that once they learn I’m running a personal development blog, they somehow treat me as some sort of a guru.

Which I’m so totally not.

You’re Really Not Superman?

You may be disappointed, but I’ll say it again: no, I’m not Superman. Wrong blog, sorry. I don’t have a magic wand, hitting your heads gracefully and healing your life, your relationships or your finances. I’m not the ultimate carrier of the universal truth. I’m not the last beholder of the light of knowledge. Not even the best productivity guy around.

Then why the heck have I started a personal development blog?

Now take a deep breath and relax: the answer will puzzle you. Ready? Ok: I started a personal development blog because I know every imaginable thing about failure. I’ve been there so many times, I can’t even remember. I had failures in business, I had failures in personal and social relationships, in school, in my job (back when I had one) and, generally speaking, wherever you’ll find a consistent life niche, you can bet all your money that I had at least one major failure there. And you’ll win big time.

Yes, I had an online business for 10 years, but I’ve been on the verge of bankruptcy more than once. At some point, I had to sell my home (at that time a small studio I was living in) and move my entire company from the office I was renting to a small apartment, where I also had to sleep, just to pay my debt.

My first major personal relationship was also a complete fiasco. After my first child was born, I couldn’t manage to keep my relationship with his mother going on and had to split up. After that, I courageously entered a hasty marriage, only to end it up in a few years, with the same bitter taste in my mouth.

I can go on like this for hours. I mean, I really can.

But that’s not the point. The point is that all those failures, through a subtle but powerful process, made me stronger. And some of them made me even smarter, if you really wanna know.

The Anatomy Of A Failure

If you do something often enough, you’ll start to see some patterns. If you fail enough, you’ll start to discern the hidden structure of a failure. And this what I’m going to talk about for the rest of this post. In my experience, failure comes in 6 stages, each of equal importance.

1. The Experiment

That’s the first stage and also the most alive and most pleasant of all, so to speak. This is the part where you start something new, exciting, interesting. You take a risk. Start a business. Fall in love. Embark on an unexpected travel. This is the stage where you actually dive in without really knowing what’s going to happen. The experiment is the most intense part of a failure, because it releases our inner guardians. We act free of inhibitions, jumping around and being in the moment.

Unfortunately, this is also the stage we use to blame the most. We somehow associate the thrill, exhilaration and enthusiasm of this stage with the actual failure. Which is not entirely true.

For example, when you fall in love with the “wrong” person, this is the romantic phase. The phase in which you’re totally blind and helpless, enjoying every second with your new partner. You don’t really care if he or she is married, if he or she is an honest person. You just don’t want to know more, all you want is to feel more, to experiment more. I think we’ve all been there. And I think we’ll all be there too, at some point. But the fact that we felt good shouldn’t make us feel bad after we realize we did a mistake.

2. The Outcome

Something happens after this experiment: there is an outcome. Maybe your business idea wasn’t validated by reality (or, most likely, you did something wrong). Maybe your partner proved to be dishonest (or, most likely, you ignored some very obvious signs that he/she was actually flashing from the very beginning). Maybe the trip turned out to be a fiasco because the budget exploded and now you have to do the dishes in a restaurant to pay for your plane ticket home (or, most likely, you ignored some very common sense rule and it turned out that rule was for real).

The outcome is the part when we pay. When we realize we did something extremely wrong and we have to put up with the consequences. Sometimes we simply call this “the disaster”. If there’s something that could go wrong in the experiment, this is the stage when it actually explodes. Usually, in our faces.

Out of all 6 stages, this is the one we hate the most. This is the one which totally blows out the experiment, uncovering an ugly reality and making us feel miserable.

3. Denial

The first reaction is to deny the whole result. You avoid it altogether. Take refuge, step back, isolate, reject. The third stage is the stage of the blind man. You chose not to see the reality.

If the failure is about a business, you simply ignore the numbers. Act like you still have all the money you lost and their real absence is just a temporary glitch in the matrix. It will be fixed in a moment. Everything is ok. No worries.

Denial is more than often some kind of pain alleviation. The disaster was so big, that we simply couldn’t accept it. Our reality was so drastically challenged, that we can’t recognize it anymore, so we chose to run away and hide in a mental castle. Denial is also, more than often, the stage in which many of us are stuck for ever.

4. Excuses

Hopefully, at some point, you’ll get tired of living in denial. You’re going to realize you did a mistake. You’ll start to acknowledge the mess, but you won’t take responsibility. No, it wasn’t me: the market was tough. No, it wasn’t me: my partner lied. It’s the stage of excuses: somebody else did it.

As hard as it would be for you to accept this, I’m going to tell it anyway: this is the stage in which 90% of the people are stopping. They never get out of here. Accepting the mistake give them some sort of a relief, but they lack the power to take responsibility. Personal development is never possible if you blame others for your own failure. Never was and never will be.

What’s interesting at this stage is the enormous amount of creativity people are using in finding excuses. They’re ready to turn the world upside down and claim the rain is going from earth to the sky , just to avoid admitting that they turned on that stupid water hose.

5. Acceptance

Then, finally, you accept the outcome. Yes, you started that business, nobody forced you to. Yes, you entered that relationship, nobody forced you to. And it was a mistake. And you did it. And that caused a lot of a mess. And you still live in that mess, minute by minute.

That’s the most difficult stage of all. No wonder 90% of the people are stopping at the excuses layer. It’s so difficult to accept a failure. Because acceptance doesn’t only mean a verbal “yes”. It means a lot more. It means taking responsibility for what you’ve done. Accepting you did something that hurt somebody (most of the time, it’s you who is hurt, that’s true).

Acceptance makes things manageable again. When you were in denial, there wasn’t any handle to reality. Denial is a form of rejecting reality. And in the excuses layer, you were giving away your power to somebody else: you did it, not me, please solve it, so I can feel better. But now, if you made it to the acceptance stage, there’s hope.

6. Learning The Lesson

Which means taking some sort of real action. Acceptance in itself will only make you feel better on the inside, but will not change your external surroundings. If you did a major mistake and you accept it, that by itself won’t change the consequences of that mistake. You’re still on the same mess you created. Until you take action and get out.

And that’s the beauty of a lesson. You learn by doing. You see what you did wrong, when and how, and start to fix it. It’s like a DIY session, only it’s for the entire Universe. You broke something in your reality but now you know exactly how you did it. It’s like you have a map on how to re-assemble the pieces, so you pick your tools and start fixing that stuff.

The last stage is the stage in which you’re actually growing. It doesn’t really matter if you’re broke or alone, because now you’re doing stuff. You’re taking action. You’re exercising your powers again. The first and the last stage of a failure have something very subtle in common: enthusiasm. Only this time you’re not sleepwalking on the roof of your house, you’re fixing the roof  of your house.

Failure And Personal Development

Now, one may ask the following question (if nobody will do it, I’ll do it for you, I know you’re all thinking at it): if we know the anatomy of a failure so well, why aren’t we avoiding them altogether? Why do we keep making mistakes?

The short answer: because we can’t. The long answer: because this is how we learn. By experimenting, evaluating, accepting and taking action again. That’s the whole personal development process. As you can see, at the core of it it’s no secret of success, but rather the secret of failure. We grow up by identifying each stage of our failures and moving on.

One could argue that if we really know the anatomy of a failure, we could avoid it next time. Partially, this is true. But only partially. We may know a certain type of failure, but that wouldn’t prevent us from bumping into it again. On the contrary: have you noticed that we tend to make the same mistakes again and again?

Because it’s not about knowing the mistake and avoiding it. It’s about putting up with it. It’s about getting square. Learning the lesson. Once you learned the lesson, you won’t be attracted to that failure again. The glue to the failure is the fact that you didn’t consumed it entirely. There is still a very deep need for that specific lesson. You still need a cup of it to quench your thirst.

Once you’re not thirsty again, you’ll finally be free to try another lesson.

50 thoughts on “The 6 Stages Of A Failure”

  1. This is indeed a great insight on how to understand why failure takes place & how to learn from failure.
    One has to go through all the six stages analysis so that he gets complete lerning instead of stopping inbetween.
    Thank you very much for sharing with us.
    Best regards,

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  5. I think that failure starts with the uncertainty, after all if we kne before hand what the putcome would be, well i guess we would never fail.

  6. Hi Dragos,

    Happy to find out your blog.

    If I would speak of myself I have spent a lot in the denial and excuses phases. This is what we call resistance… and it takes a lot of energy… spent for nothing…

    Sometimes resistance is about who we are and what we value, now in this very moment…

    Now, speaking of learning the lesson and moving on. that is what I value very much.

    I wish you peace and harmony!

  7. Great points Dragos. I think we put more attention to failures since we want to analyze them. How often do you really stop to think about WHY you are having successes though? If we did, we could learn just as much, perhaps more since it is more inspiring to repeat that than change our failures. I know in my work, close outs on projects we focus on the best things and reproduce them and share it with others and train that. It’s much more enjoyable and gains more interest from people than talking about failures. To me, its all in what we focus on.
    .-= Mike King´s last blog ..Bring On the Passion! =-.

  8. This is a great post. I love the conclusion that unless we learn the lesson, we will continue bumping against the same failure because we need to learn the lesson. How empowering is that!
    I work with my dreams to get insight into my subconscious and i’m fascinated that the dreams come back again and again until i understand the message i’m supposed to get. Failure in real life is like a “waking” dream. I also love that you point out about personal responsibility. Keep writing. and Thank you for being so honest.

  9. What an awesome article. I prefer not to see the mishaps and detours as failures, but I get your point. The important thing is reaching that stage of learning the lesson when you feel like you’ve failed. I think that what looks, feels, and smells like failure is just an opportunity. An opportunity to learn, grow, and align with something much better.
    .-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..3 Simple Positive Thinking Techniques You’ll Love for Tough Times =-.

  10. I’d take issue with the idea that we can’t avoid failure. Some people live inside their own bubble and within that there really isn’t failure because there are no experiments. No attempts at trying something different or growing. ‘Tis a sad life, but this is how some people use their existence.

    Others though may try different things and see what happens. For example, I’m not athletic at all, yet I participated in an office olympics and did rather poorly in terms of score. However, I had a hilarious time participating and causing many others to laugh at my performance. Now, I can look at my score and think I suck, or I can look at all the laughs I gave people and think I cheered up a lot of people that day. Perspective can be a powerful thing. This is where analyzing a failure has its significance to some extent which is likely stages 4 and 6 from how I see it. Or is the analysis throughout all the stages, just in differing degrees?

    I hope that question makes sense as I did enjoy reading the entry.

    • Wow, you surely made me laugh too, which means you did a good deed that day. I don’t think what you’re talking about is a mistake, but rather an act of courage and self-esteem. We should all try to challenge ourselves every once in a while, not to win, but to have fun. At least.

  11. Wow…a personal development blogger who really “knows” his stuff! I can identify with having a life long learning experience with failure. Although I no longer think of it as failure, but rather as a step to a higher consciousness:~)

    Even after I realized most of my failures have led to wonderful life lessons, I still trip and fall every now and then. I like the think the Universe knows I am a strong person and so, still “tests” me to keep me on my toes and build up a bit more positive muscle:~)

    I loved the verification text I got: “a better life!”
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..The Nature of the Beast =-.

  12. Dragos,

    What a pleasure reading this post. I loved the statement; “The long answer: because this is how we learn.”

    How unexciting would life be if there was no failure. The bland day to day routine of get everything right. Knowing that you will not find any errors in the work of others or in your. Not very much to look forward to; no challenges.

    Thank you for sharing this.


    .-= Paul´s last blog ..It’s only skin deep =-.

  13. Hey Dragos.

    Some of things I’ve learned from my many mistakes are:

    Don’t get offended.
    Don’t get precious.
    Don’t get defensive.
    Don’t get angry.
    Get realistic, practical, busy and productive.

    “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.”
    James Joyce
    .-= Motivational Speaker – Craig Harper´s last blog ..Smell Your Way to Happiness =-.

  14. With all that said, can we still learn from others’ failure? Would it be better to learn from others so we won’t repeat the same failures and succeed eventually? I want to spare myself the trouble that others had to go to. I am considering hiring a guru or mentor from the Mentor club. Just so that I would be properly guided or that I would learn from his experience.

    • Good luck with that. Since you seem to own Mentor club, I guess it would be rather easy to hire somebody from your own business, right? 😉

    • It’s interesting how this “virtual” connection can lead to some long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. I love your blog about having an online store, and I love it for more than a year, now 🙂

  15. I loved this post!
    I can tell that I had a lot of failures in my life too. I think that the only person who does not make failures in life is the one who never gets to the sixth stage that you have described.
    I do not like failing (like most people probably) but I treat it as part of my life and my life experience. Some failures are necessary to help us see the right future for us. I believe in failure as one of the best tools to find happiness in life.
    .-= Anastasiya´s last blog ..77 (+7) Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy and Happy for 100 Years or Longer =-.

    • I like the last sentence: to be hones, I never thought failure can be a tool to find happiness, but mostly a tool to grow. Maybe because I think happiness IS the process of growing 🙂

  16. This was brilliant Dragos. Some of the most successful people I know say “learn to fail fast.” As I read your article I connected that saying with the value of moving to the learning stage ASAP. Like you said, we learn by doing.

    There were some great lessons here but my favorite stand alone quote was: “Personal development is never possible if you blame others for your own failure. Never was and never will be.” Amen to that!
    .-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Fear Lessons from a Bear, Rattlesnake, & New Yorker =-.

  17. Hello Dragos
    My take is that unless the failures are big, like the examples you gave, they don’t shake us up enough to make these stages apparent. Totally agree we learn from failure, but the reason most people don’t learn is most failures don’t hurt enough.
    For example, few people experience a business failure. But thousands waste money buying business opportunities (or some internet marketing crap) they never use, but the money they have wasted doesn’t hurt enough for them to have to face up to it
    Thanks for informative post. David
    .-= David Rogers´s last blog ..Do clothes make a person? =-.

    • That’s an interesting perspective. I think if we’re not really hit by a failure we can’t say it’s a failure, but a mismatch. The more you “feel” it, the better the lesson.

  18. This is awesome Dragos – running personal development blog because you had lots of failures. Wow, that’s powerful. And I totally agree with you that if don’t learn the lesson, we’ll keep repeating the pattern. I learned that the hard way after repeating one really annoying pattern over and over again. Now I went to a different extreme, I am looking for lessons in everything. Sometimes can’t find them. But I keep looking:)
    .-= Lana-{Daring Clarity}´s last blog ..How I Got to The Core, Got Scared… and Survived. =-.

  19. Hey Dragos, thanks for sharing this story about how you were able to overcome your previous failures here. Everyone has their own story to how they got to where they are, and when I see yours, I admire the fact that you were able to take each failure, no matter how bad they were, learn from them, and move on.

    I think you’re right in the fact that there’s no secret to success. We can’t try to avoid making mistakes in the future; they’re pretty much inevitable. But if we go out and experiment with life, go through whatever pain from mistakes we may get along the way and learn from them, this process will ultimately help us succeed and grow as stronger individuals.
    .-= Hulbert´s last blog ..Tony Robbins and Why =-.

    • From the outside, this process of learning from my own mistakes may seem easy now, but believe me, it wasn’t. And I’m sure it ain’t easy for anyone.

      But it’s manageable 🙂

  20. Great post! So many times people repeat the same mistake(s) over and over again due to their way of thinking. Once you’ve changed your thinking, and, as you said — really learned the lesson, you won’t be attracted to that type of situation again. The universe will test you to see if you learned the lesson. If you learned the lesson, you move on to another life lesson.
    .-= Anita´s last blog ..How to Set Goals and Why =-.

    • As I already wrote, once I learned how to run a business, the bits and pieces of it, that is (and once I did this by failing repeatedly at it) I was not attracted to it anymore.

      There are so many other wonderful blunders waiting for me out in the wild, I just know that 🙂

  21. Great post Dragos! And fitting that you posted this today because I posted a video called “Failure Doesn’t Exist.” 🙂

    I think of failure as feedback. And as long as we learn from the feedback, eventually it will be a success. Therefore, there is no failure. Which is essentially what you cover in #6: Learning The Lesson.
    .-= Karol Gajda´s last blog ..[Video] Failure Doesn’t Exist =-.

    • Absolutely! I just watched your video and I think it’s absolutely great! Especially the part about “not avoiding mistakes” but “fail or succeed as fast as you can”, that was awesome 🙂

  22. Hey Dragos,

    I think you’re right on with this article. I know it’s often been said that we learn so much more from failure than we do from success. One thing that I think people often don’t pay attention to as well is when we succeed without knowing why we succeed, we often will learn incorrect lessons. We may have done three things, but two of them were wrong and the third one was so powerful and right that it made up for our other two shortcomings and made it a success. Because of this we might learn the wrong lesson, and repeat the two “wrong” things and wonder why we don’t get success again

    On the other hand, when we fail we take a step back to reflect on what our mistakes were and how we can correct them – and we learn so much more from those experiences.
    .-= Sid Savara´s last blog ..7 Common Procrastination Excuses =-.

    • Spot on comment, Sid, as always. For me, the most important part about mistakes it’s the emotional response. We blundered, we’re guilty, let’s not do it again. But then, how are you going to learn something if you’re starting to avoid mistakes altogether?


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