How I Chose to Reframe My Failure

reframe failure

“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”

– Winston Churchill

At 29 years old I found myself broke, living at home (for the third time), unemployed and a failure.

I had spent the past two years of my life going through personality tests, panel interviews and some of the most intense exams I had ever encountered to be told: “Yes, you are exactly the type of person we want as a future doctor”. Yet, in the end, it wasn’t enough. I passed everything, even after not having picked up a calculator in a decade or studied science since I was 16, but my GPA ended up falling just short of the cut-off point (and I mean just short, as in 2% short).

I found myself unceremoniously removed from the program. No letter. No email. No phone call. Just silence.

There’s a special type of grief that takes hold of you when you experience devastating failure. An intense pressure that takes hold of your insides and crushes you physically, along with your self-confidence and very identity. You get up and go through the motions in a haze, seemingly ok but likely to cry uncontrollably or explode in rage at the drop of a hat. And that’s just what happened to me. If that’s not something you’ve experienced, consider yourself lucky.

For over nine months I went through the motions as the crater I found myself in got deeper and deeper. I couldn’t find a job in the small town I’d been forced to return to and the continued sympathy from the people I ran into was just too much to bear. My failure seemed total and completely public. The shame and embarrassment just kept growing.

Then one afternoon, during an all too often meltdown involving tears and screaming, where I cursed the world and lamented to my mother about how everyone hated me and what a waste of space I was, she snapped. She turned to me and the words she said changed my life. “You are the only person who sees yourself as a failure. You want to know what people say about you? What people think of you? They’re impressed because you never give up. You keep fighting. Sure you’ve had a lot of hard knocks in life so far, but you have always found something else to strive for. Yes, you are down at the moment, but you’ve been down before. People don’t say you’re a failure, they say they’re impressed by you because you give things a go. You put yourself out there and try. It’s a lot more than most people will ever do and that’s why you see yourself as a failure, because you’re living a life that no one else has the courage too!”

That shocked me to the core and turned me into a sobbing mess, but it got me thinking. I was only a failure because that’s how I framed it.

That event was to be the catalyst that resulted in twisting my reality upside down. I decided that even though I had no direction and no success based on normal standards (no money, no job, and living at home etc.) I could control how I allowed my mind to spend its time. So I started reading. But I didn’t just read the books, I took notes, I implemented strategies, I researched anything that took my fancy and followed obscure leads into worlds I had only ever had vague interest in before. I flooded my life with all things self-help, spiritual and business. And I noted down all the ideas that flowed to me.

What I discovered was that everyone who has had any success in life, when they get knocked down or take a wrong turn, knows how to reframe their failure. This is something we can all do if we choose to and it’s not as hard or complex as it may seem.

Firstly, you need to accept that you have a choice in how you use your thoughts. No one else lives inside your head except you. You can choose to relive your failure over and over, or you can choose to look toward the future, find new things to be excited about and keep your mind focused on expecting only good to come from what has happened. You need to accept that wallowing and ruminating are not going to change anything except your current quality of life.

Secondly, you need to remember that what you see as failure someone else will see in a completely different light. We all view the world differently so, for example, if you lost your job and you feel worthless, someone else, in the same situation, may choose to see it as the start of a new adventure or the opportunity to start that business of their dreams. Everyone sees things differently so try to see how others may view your situation.

Thirdly, find something new to dream about, strive for and aspire too. Start to read, start to research. If you are open to this happening you will find something, I promise. If you’ve had a relationship fail then consume books and articles that raise your self-esteem, if you failed at a diet then try surrounding yourself with things and thoughts that raise your level of self-love. There is always something you can do. Follow the little nagging feeling of intuition within you and walk along the paths that you may never have considered before. It could be the most exciting and rewarding thing you ever do.

Lastly, rid yourself of the idea of perfection. We all experience failure, we all experience setbacks. You just don’t know about everyone else’s. If you insist on perfection you will live a stagnant life filled with very little joy. So embrace rough-around-the-edges as a lifestyle choice. As a result, you’ll find yourself with less stress and a much more adventurous spirit. It will allow you to continue to put yourself out there and take chances on improving your life because you will know that imperfection is truth.

By using the above ideas I was slowly able to claw my way out of the haze that I was living in and finally begin to feel a little like my old self again.

If you are going through something remotely similar, remember that you have the power within you to change how you see your failure. Chose to reframe it to empower you and look towards the exciting future that lies ahead. If you still can’t find that exciting future, keep looking. Trust me, it’s there.

What are some of the ways that you have overcome or reframed failure in your life? Please comment below, I’d love to know.

17 thoughts on “How I Chose to Reframe My Failure”

  1. great story! what happened with your mother is called “Second order change”. you were locked inside the structure. you thought about things the same way so you got “more of the same”. a Second order change is a change that comes from out of the system, in this case, your mother opinion.
    enjoyed the reading so much. tanks.

  2. wow amazing story. I don’t know how can I cope up a scenario like that but after reading your story I think I can be ready or might as well learn a few from here. I am young and has more to experience in life :)

  3. Great Story Catherine! Your journey reminded me of my own failure 3 years ago when I got dismissed from the nursing program. I hit rock bottom and was very hard on myself. Similarly, I re-framed my failure in bettering myself through reading and getting wise wisdom from the best authors around the world. Also, I learned to surrounded myself with like minded and positive individuals like me.

    1. Thats great :) Its amazing how similar the situations are between people when we finally have the courage to talk about failure, instead of feeling that we are the only ones going through what we are experiencing.

  4. Great article Catherine. Learning that failure is a gorgeous lesson wrapped in paper bag changed my life. It was when I paid attention to the pattern of what happened AFTER the “failure” that I clued in. I always, always came out better, stronger, wiser, and more sure of what I wanted, with new ideas and greater resolve. #failureisamazing

  5. Such a wonderful story Catherine, I did experience failure when I didn’t graduate my Law degree, I am fourth year student and was expecting to graduate but \I failed to subjects. I wasn’t able to reframe myself until I realized how I turned myself to failure even more for not pursuing what I love. I even ended my long time relationship because I am so depressed and hated all the rock edges and downfalls. I am feeling great now that I am back on my feet, I connected to my ex and we’re together again and I am going to finish my degree to have my diploma and continue living in a positive manner. THANKYOU

  6. I can relate, as I had a similar experience going to college. I had passed all the requirements with flying colors to the tee for the program I was in and my scores were impeccable, but, merely because of a personality clash with a couple of the professors that oversaw the program I was denied access and was told to pursue a different degree. Beware gatekeepers. My solution was to transfer to a different institution and although it took a year longer and was more expensive, I found the environment more nurturing and attained the degree I was originally pursuing. The rest of your story is a great reminder for me about mindset in my current situation. Thank you for the reminder.

  7. Inspiring story. When nothing goes in your favour, you must muster inner strength and surge ahead in life. Reading motivational and inspiring books and making notes is a very effective technique in overcoming a challenging situation.

  8. Heart Touching story, Thanks for sharing your feelings with us. I agree failure and sucess both are the part of our life so we should have to fight with all problems with courage.

  9. Empowering indeed. Many thanks Catherine for that.
    I happened to have face the same quite some months ago. After completing my bachelors degree. I decided to passionately go into Laundry and home cleaning business, and it’s here where I faced a lot of challenges. The business demanded more of my time and money. I didn’t have enough money but I had all the perfect idea in my mind.

    I went round looking for money from relatives, friends, banks and even from the politicians but I didn’t get. Yet the business was still more demanding with lots of bills to settle.
    You can imagine the kind of pressure and disappointments I faced. I started seeing myself as a failure amounting to nothing. I felt stressed and discouraged.
    There after spending two months indoors and going back into the drawing board, I decided to stop business for sometimes and go look for employment. There after, I will go back into business. Am now working in a four star hotel in Kenya.

    I will always appreciate in every situation- up or down.

    Many thanks.

  10. Great article.

    I think reframing is a great, but also crucial psychological tool to help you towards success. In fact, so powerful is reframing, that you could not only influence yourself to take massive action, but also help influence other people (sometimes used in marketing and sales).

    And combining reframes with metaphors means you have slightly more control over your subconscious, which is responsble for your behalviour and your emotional state. Thanks for sharing this.

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