Processing Failure

There is a certain point in life where you will understand that some sort of failure, at some level, is unavoidable. Whether we’re talking about losing someone dear (it will happen at some point, because we’re all just tourists in this world, anyway) or about losing some thing we’re attached to, like a house or a business, we are bound to experience loss – and, with it, the embedded feeling of failing.

The sooner we understand this, the better we are in understanding how to process failure.

All cultures around the world have the concept of “mourning”. It’s a type of state in which you allow yourself to process the grief after someone’s passing away. A state in which you are allowed to feel sad, to express sadness and to give time to your inner representation of the world to rearrange. But almost no culture has – at least to my knowledge – something similar for when you’re failing. Being it a personal relationship failure, a business failure or just some bad luck.

In my personal experience, every major fuckup in our lives deserves something like this. I wouldn’t call it exactly “mourning”, but I would say it shares a lot with it. Being (un)fortunate enough to experience my fair share of failures (in all the areas described above, from personal relationships to businesses) I had to work out some sort of a system. Some sort of a method to not only cope with failure when it arises, but to make sure I won’t step into the same type of shit again (metaphorically speaking).

Without further ado, here’s how it works for me.

The 4 Processes For Failure Recovery

The first one is acceptance. The second one is journaling. The third one is accountability partners, and the fourth one is intelligent withdrawal (there would also be a fifth one, called “just get up and walk again”, but I didn’t include it in here, because when we get there we’re basically healed).

Let’s take them one at a time.

Acceptance – It Is What It Is

When the shit hits the fan, there is only one thing to do: acknowledge that the shit just hit the fan. It’s not chocolate, it’s shit. And it just hit the fan, spilling everywhere now. If we build our strategy on anything else other than this basic fact, we’re not going anywhere.

Acceptance is like a handle to reality, it gives us some grip so we can start interacting with it again. If we don’t accept reality, we cannot change it. We will float in a parallel universe – one that, mind you, exists only in our imagination – while we will still continue to experience the consequences of that shit spilling all over the place.

Alas, we’re so attached to our own expectations, that we’d rather delude ourselves, forcing our mind to see things that aren’t really there, instead of accepting that the outside world just changed.

Acceptance is the most difficult part of the process, but without it, there’s hardly anything we can do to nudge ourselves out of misery.

Journaling – Put It Into Your Own Words

The second process that I use – extensively – is journaling. It might not seem like much – just putting words on paper – but it’s extremely powerful. Journaling involves telling the story of what happened, but in the way you perceived, using your own words, your own perspective. It also involves describing your emotions – and, if you started doing some stuff to get out of the smelly place, your actions as well. You’ll see in the last process that doing stuff immediately after a failure is not something that I support, though.

The process of describing something into words, apart from making us better at using words, in general, has this side effect of taking the pressure off of that said something. Once you describe something, you also define its boundaries. You create some sort of clarity, and that clarity helps a lot with calming your emotional field.

Accountability Partners – Share The Burden For A While

The third part is to find a significant other with whom you can share a little bit of this burden. This is the standard process for decades in addiction recovery (think Alcoholic Anonymous), and I found it to work well in failure recovery as well. Just make sure the other part can really understand what’s going on. You don’t necessarily need their compassion, just the fact that they understand what’s going on and they are willing to hold some space for you.

This part is about learning to manifest yourself again in a safe space. I found it important to do it first in this secure space, before engaging full speed with the rest of the world. It’s like a rehearsal, one in which you can’t really screw up, because, well, it’s just a rehearsal. On a side note, if you find an accountability partner, then it’s worth spending some time becoming one for somebody else, like returning the favor, you know.

Intelligent Withdrawal – Limit The Damage

The last process that I use is distancing. Or, how I like to call it, intelligent withdrawal. I do this mainly to limit the damage. “Withdrawal” because really is a process in which I am secluding myself in some way (spending less time with people, interacting less, doing less), but “intelligent” because I try to do it in an elastic, meaningful way. I’m not creating ruptures in this process, I’m just acknowledging which of the ropes that we’re tying me to reality are still functioning, and which are not working anymore. The damaged ropes are to be repaired (or replaced) in this intelligent withdrawal process, while the ones that are still functioning are just undergoing some maintenance.

It took me quite a lot of time (and understanding) to be able to reach this state. Many people, when experiencing failure, are going into a fever of actions (me included). I used to “fight”, to “do whatever it takes”, just to overcome the odds. It didn’t help much, on the contrary. The more I was struggling, the deeper I was sinking. Most failures are just like moving sands, if you get caught in them, you just have to stay still, any other movement will just suck you in more.

And that’s the whole 4 processes method. In some cases it takes a few weeks, but in other it may take years. At the end of the last stage, the world is again manageable and I can re-engage it in a healthy way, knowing also that, in this process of healing, I didn’t generate more damage than it was already there.

The bottom line is that, every once in a while, failure can’t be avoided. But the misery associated with it, well, it definitely can. And even if we’re hit by some misery, at the end of the day, it’s just something that we can process, learn from it and, eventually, dissolve entirely.

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