5 Ways to Handle Failure

People fail. All of us do. Failure itself isn’t a problem, but it can be devastating if you respond poorly to it. That is, it’s up to you what failure means to you.

As some are motivated by failure, others are slowed by it. Here are some ideas to help failure teach you and fuel you forward.

1. Devalue Individual Attempts

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. If that was his one and only attempt at becoming a basketball star, he would not have succeeded. But he had many many more opportunities to show his talent and prove those coaches wrong, and subsequently became the greatest player ever.

Those who struggle to handle failure tend to overemphasize that one instance in which they failed. They overvalue its true importance, which is almost always small, even when it seems significant.

Basketball is a great metaphor for failure because of the nature of shooting. Any player who misses their first shot must understand that they will have more opportunities to shoot, and one miss doesn’t mean they’ll have a bad game. They might miss their first shot and then make their next 10 in a row. They might miss their first 5 shots and then make the next 5. One instance of failure does not mean another one is inevitable.

Think to yourself: “I will have many more opportunities. This is not the end.”

2. Be Proud of Your Pre-success

Before success happens, there will be evidence of it.

Stephen Curry is professional basketball player and a great story. I actually played with him at his dad’s basketball camp in Fort Defiance, VA. And he went to college 5 minutes from where I lived in North Carolina. Now, I’m one of his biggest fans.

Before Curry reached success, his doubters were numerous. They said he wasn’t athletic or strong enough. He couldn’t finish inside well enough. But his incredible work ethic and frequent practicing were early indications that he would succeed. His success wasn’t immediate once he entered the NBA. He struggled with turnovers, injuries, and inconsistent play in his first few years. He was failing on some levels, but success was inevitable. He was putting in the work that would mould him into one of the most exciting players in the league. Curry is a two time NBA MVP and has a Finals trophy!

When you try and fail, you can still be proud and excited that you put in the effort to try. Success is the end result of a process, and while you didn’t succeed, you did enter the process. The more iterations you have, the better you’ll get at it. If you enter the process frequently, consider yourself a pre-success. A successful result might not happen when you expect it, but it will happen.

3. Don’t Be Surprised By Failure

I know, it sounds bad to ask someone to basically expect failure. But the greatest athletes fail. The greatest doctors fail. The greatest people in their respective fields fail. Everyone fails, but those who find success do some combination of trying harder, using smarter strategies, and trying more times.

Thus, when you fail, it should not come as a surprise, but as an expected part of your journey to success. If you expect to fail sometimes, you won’t be slowed by it. Show me one successful person who hasn’t failed. I’ll wait.

4. Know Your Natural Advantage

There’s one critical advantage you have over failure. You only need to succeed ONCE, and when you do, it will make up for all prior failures in that area.

Edison failed thousands of times before he invented the one light bulb that improved human lighting forever.
When you find the right partner, previous failed relationships will be a distant memory, drowned by the love you two share.
Once you find the right strategy, you can use it over and over. For example, my struggles to exercise ended when I discovered the power of a mini habit to get me moving forward.
Your haircut might be bad now, but once you find the right style, you can get it cut that same way every time. Donald Trump’s hair is a good example of this. 😛

My career started off horribly. I couldn’t get a job for a year out of college. I had student loan debt that my degree wasn’t helping to pay off. I had to move back in with my parents. This blog floundered for over two years. I was 28 years old and still living with my parents. I was failure incarnate. Then I wrote Mini Habits. One book changed everything. Today, I can travel the world, live wherever I want, work as much or as little as I want, and I don’t have to answer to a boss or work in a cubicle. Even better, the strategy has changed thousands of lives, giving my career a strong feeling of meaning and value. To me, that’s success.

5. Embrace Your Humanity

Failing is not such a bad thing. There’s often humor in it. One time, I fixed a giant bowl of salsa. As I was walking to put it on the table, I inexplicably dropped the bowl, which turned over before it fell to the floor. The force of hitting the floor and the pressure from the trapped air inside shot some of the salsa straight up onto the CEILING. It was a devastating loss of salsa and embarrassing, but pretty hilarious. If you can laugh at yourself, you’ll always have the last laugh.

There’s definitely humanity in failure. Too many people walk around trying to appear perfect to themselves and others. They fight to keep this facade. But perfect performance is more of a machine-like trait than a human trait. We are broken and flawed, but that’s okay.

Good-natured people who don’t hide their flaws are generally well-liked. That’s because we “get” being flawed, while seeing a “perfect person” makes us feel less than adequate ourselves. Being flawed is the most relatable human trait! It’s like, “Yeah, I could drop a bowl of salsa like that, too.”


With the right perspective, your failures will be like speed bumps in the parking lot. Yeah, it’s annoying to have to slow down and go over speed bump after speed bump, but eventually, you’ll get to the highway and race off into the sunset. For that to happen, however, you must keep driving!

Let’s keep driving forward, friends, and we’ll do both good and bad things. The worst thing we can do is nothing. The lack of failure is perhaps the greatest possible failure. New frontiers require experimentation, and experimentation means occasional or even frequent failure on the way to success.

Don’t fear failure. It’s not as bad as it seems, and I mean that sincerely.

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