Breaking Free From Failure In 4 Steps

Author’s Note:  I have a guest post up at Bloom, a website that focuses on “Parenting kids with disabilities”. It’s entitled, “An open letter to parents:  on what your children remember.” Visits and comments are welcomed!


Since I last wrote about ‘Secrets of Success’, I thought today would be a good day to talk about the F-word:  Failure.

So let’s say you’ve decided to be vulnerable, to start paying attention to the important things, break free of your perceived constraints and celebrate what is. Fabulous. I’m right there with you. But what happens when things don’t go as planned? What happens when, say, your beloved manuscript that you’ve worked on for nearly four years gets rejected by a publisher who had (previously) expressed interest?

A hypothetical example, of course.

How do you cope with a dream (temporarily, but resoundingly) deferred? From the front lines, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Remember to give yourself time.

Set aside time to cry, rage, scream…whatever you need to express, get it out. Giving yourself time also means:   not making any big decisions. Cocooning. Telling friends that you are not up for a night on the town. Using as many Kleenex as you need.

This is an important place to be. A full acknowledgment of what you’ve lost is essential. However, it’s also important not to stay there. In moving forward

2. Remember who you are.

Do small things that connect you to yourself. Read your favorite books, watch your favorite movies, spend time with your favorite people. This may sound basic, but it’s tempting to move toward self-punishment when you feel as though you’ve failed. Self-care sends you the message that, though your project/proposal/interview may have tanked, YOU are not a failure.

Once you’ve done this, start to remember what you believe in, and why you took the risk of failing in the first place.

As my husband said, “Have you read your blog lately?” He was talking about my last post, and how we define success for ourselves, rather than letting others define it for us. I do believe this, despite the setback.

My husband also reminded me of why I wrote my book:  to tell the stories of the remarkable people at L’Arche, and how their lives have changed my life. (Also, because writing is what I love to do.) Do these reasons justify the risk? To my mind, absolutely.

Once you feel more in touch with who you are…

3. Remember what you know.

I once learned an important lesson from my former roommate, Julie. She was a biology major at Vassar, and during our senior year she spent a semester on a self-directed experiment whose primary hypothesis turned out to be…entirely inaccurate.

When I went to her presentation, the scientific terminology went over my head. But what stayed with me was the confident, calm way in which she said:  “A negative result is significant.”

As Julie learned, her experiment wasn’t a waste of time because the hypothesis proved incorrect. Likewise, in crafting my (failed) submission, I gained valuable skills. I taught myself how to write a formal book proposal, I took a calculated risk and I received some good feedback.

However, though a few of the editor’s criticisms were valid, some were off-base. Case in point:

“…you simply haven’t lived long enough [to write an effective ‘spiritual memoir’]. Also, you are writing about people and situations that most of us don’t want to really know about.”

What a one-two punch:  you’re too young to do justice to the story of your own life, and most of us don’t want to hear the stories of people with intellectual disabilities? (Would Anne Frank and Temple Grandin please stand up?!)

Once the hurt passed, I felt relieved. What do I know? That this editor is not a good match for me or my work.

4. Remember to reach out.

It has helped beyond words for me to visit Miguel* as he is in the hospital with a partial bowel obstruction. His condition is improving, but naturally, he wants to go home. And naturally, I want to be able to say, “Miguel! The book I wrote about you and your brother is going to be published!” Neither of us are getting what we want today. We both need to be patient. (And I need to put my loss in perspective. I don’t have a tube sucking gunk out of my bowels.)

Miguel is teaching me about bearing up gracefully. As I sit beside him, I am thinking of ways to make my manuscript better…because no way am I giving up. No way am I putting my dreams in a box.


Thank you for reading! Retweets and subscriptions via email or RSS are always appreciated. (Especially when this writer is a little bit down and out.)

*Names have been changed.