I have failed. This sentence sometimes resounds with terrible accents in our minds. Beyond the negative emotions that the feeling of failure brings, it is usually also the cause of a demobilization. Indeed, if I am not worthy of accomplishing something, then what is the point of accomplishing anything?
Dignity is at the heart of the problem of failure, because not being able to overcome failure is often not being able to overcome one’s sense of unworthiness. In the same way, overcoming a defeat is knowing how to take advantage of it, either by agreeing to lower our demands on ourselves, or by giving ourselves the means to increase our effort, if this is possible and if we possess the skills of our ambitions. In both situations, it makes no sense to devalue yourself: if you can control your effort, then you are perfectly worthy – and capable – of doing what is expected of you with a little confidence and seriousness, and if you cannot control your lack of ability, there is no point in castigating yourself! You can’t be effective at everything, but you can learn to fail better.
Why learn to fail better? Because success is a series of failures that have not destroyed us and from which we have learned. For example, since we have fewer skills than there are, we can help each other. In terms of probability, I am indeed more likely to fail x number of tasks if I am alone rather than with others. Surrounding ourselves with people with different skills, ready to help us, increases the probability of succeeding in a greater number of tasks.
In addition, in social psychology, there is a theory, the fundamental attribution error, also called the correspondence bias, which refers to the tendency we have to overestimate the importance of an internal, dispositional cause (“I am bad”) to the detriment of external, situational causes (“I did not make enough effort”, “it is not in my abilities”) to explain our own behavior or the behavior of others. Understanding that there is a collusion between potential cognitive biases and our sense of personal failure is important for our further reflection.
Back to the question of our dignity: what do we actually mean by this term? It is our ego that is at stake! What is the force that hinders the person who has fallen down and is trying to get up? Is it gravity? Or the belief that the weight of gravity, against which we have always opposed the force of our verticality, is suddenly too heavy for our shoulders? It is undoubtedly very curious to note this irrationality in our characters: what we were able to undertake the second before, we question it through a new perspective. Since I was able to fail, perhaps I am no longer able to succeed? We punish ourselves for obeying this new logic and one thing leading to another, we sew in our hearts this absurd allegation: one event has the power to cancel another, as a number multiplied by zero is equal to itself. And perhaps we don’t dare admit to ourselves that we infer our lack of value, because it is true that objectively, a number multiplied by zero only gives zero because zero is a worthless number. But in the operation, it is not to zero that we correspond, but to the whole number, in the manner of the event marked by failure or success, which necessarily implies a negative or positive variation.
So why do we make this shortcut, when the lack of value remains absolutely and necessarily foreign to our existences of men and women, who by definition, have the value of life?
Now, in the light of another bias, the belief bias (implying that errors of judgement and lack of logic can be royally ignored if they lead to a conclusion confirming our beliefs), we understand from our fundamental attribution error this additional element: to convince oneself of one’s lack of value in case of failure is to believe in failure as a destiny and not as a possibility. It is therefore quite possible to worship failure and to attribute to it a power of the order of the absolute (as to death or to God, for example), or else, and after reading this article, to consider failure for what it is, a contingency of life that participates in its beauty, in the same way as victory, love, loss, mourning or achievement, that is to say, as a chance, an authentic trace of the absurd. Here we find our zero, the true unknown of our equation. Why must I fail? Because I must live and failure is part of life.
We find equivalents in literature, notably in Camus and his cycle of the absurd, of the cognitive biases at work in the obstacles that we oppose to our development and our blooming. This is why reading is an excellent way to overcome the feeling of failure. A book is a direct witness of what it means to overcome the fear of failure: it is the result of a struggle between the writer and his blank page that brings the lessons of the trials he encountered along the way to get to you (a bit like this article!).
If not, what other ways can you get back up after a fall?
As we said earlier, don’t sacralize that fall. It will go away as it came, that is to say in its quality of event, and leave its place to another event of life, potentially happy, moreover!
Do not deduce from a single occurrence or even from several occurrences of failure that you are doomed to never succeed again. First of all, it is statistically impossible, the bread never systematically falls on the same side. Secondly, your existence does not obey such a meticulous organization and is so free from chance and its vagaries that you are in a position to assert with determinism that you will never know a favorable wind again.
Learn to sort out your negative feelings: again, if you can’t do anything to change the situation, there’s no point in looking for a solution within yourself, save it for what you can control, and learn instead to ask for help around you for example. If you can do something about it, do it patiently and methodically: Rome wasn’t built in a day and hard work protects you from low self-esteem and lack of confidence because it instills a sense of self-worth.
“Failure is the foundation of success.” Lao Tzu