Two stories recently struck me regarding failure and why some people handle it so well and others, you know, fail at it. The first example was when Auburn’s men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA final four, only to lose by one point in a game that also included a controversial call. Coach Bruce Pearl’s response was:
"Sometimes they're going to go your way, sometimes they're not going to go your way. Are we going to give God less glory because we lost and ... only because we win? Stop. Grow up, this is part of the game. These kids taught us, I think, in many, many ways how to handle defeat and that's a difficult thing to do for these young kids and I'm proud of them."
Even more amazing was the response of Auburn’s (what is it about Auburn!) senior gymnast Samantha Cerio, who seriously injured both of her legs in a major competition, ending her career. Two days later she shared this response:
“Friday night was my final night as a gymnast. After 18 years I am hanging up my grips and leaving the chalk behind. I couldn’t be prouder of the person that gymnastics has made me to become. It’s taught me hard work, humility, integrity, and dedication, just to name a few. It’s given me challenges and road blocks that I would have never imagined that has tested who I am as a person. It may not have ended the way I had planned, but nothing ever goes as planned.”
How does a devastated 22-year-old champion gymnast or an NCAA basketball coach who saw a chance at a title snatched away respond with such honesty, maturity and hope? They know how to fail successfully. Here are the 5 secrets of overcomers.
Secret 1: It’s a matter of perspective.
Choosing how I want to look my circumstances is what psychologists call framing. If I choose to frame the situation as “I am a victim,” I will act like a victim. If I choose to make a loss catastrophic, it will be a catastrophe. It is not easy, but when failure or loss strikes, we can and must choose to frame it with honesty and with a perspective of “this is not the final chapter.” Those who fail successfully choose hope.
Secret 2: Pick the right team to surround you.
People who fail successfully recruit at least a few people to be part of their lives who understand loss and have not given up. They don’t act as though there isn’t real loss and suffering. Rather, in the midst of such loss, they kept moving, breathing and hoping. Proverbs 17:17 says it well – a good friend is loyal and there for you in your time of need. Such people can bring hope to those who no longer feel it and encouragement when they lose their strength.
Secret 3: Grit matters.
People with grit do not possess superhero strength. However, they do approach life with a different perspective. They push forward when others quit. They work hard when others slow down. They get up when others stay down. They have a nice balance between vision for the future and endurance in the present. Such grit often separates the good from the great and those who thrive from those who barely survive.
Secret 4: Find a purpose beyond the loss.
If all of our meaning in life comes from winning at something (career, promotion, athletics, appearance, income, car, etc.), then what happens when we lose? We lose our meaning, our value, or our sense of purpose. In other words, if we place our value in such things as these, we run the risk of losing our value since they all will eventually disappear. Those who fail successfully have hope in something greater than the temporary things that cannot last.
Secret 5: Don’t think too far ahead.
I remember reading about a person going through navy seal training who said that one of the things he was taught by an experienced instructor was to not think about the days or weeks ahead. If you do, you will not make it. Only focus on getting through the task in front of you. Why? Because when we are experiencing extreme challenges, we get overwhelmed by thinking too far down the road and lose hope. Those who fail successfully do not focus on what it will take to start over or overcome their circumstances; they just focus on taking the next best step.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center Consulting Group and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.