How To (Not) Set Yourself Up For Failure

Success is what we make of it. Whether that means completing a marathon or getting hired for a dream job or even simply pulling one’s self out of bed, success is aiming to accomplish something and then, accomplishing it. Simple enough, right?

And of course, by this logic, failure is the inverse of that. Failure is having a goal in mind and missing the mark or giving up entirely. And, at least for me, failure is, more often than not, the result of the latter: rather than facing up to not being able to complete something, I quit.

There’s a rhythm to the process of trying new things or setting out to create productive routines. The first steps go fairly smooth, with the motivation to progress fueled by fresh, vigorous enthusiasm. Sometimes, this enthusiasm takes on a life of its own. Sometimes, it can grow the expectations we have of ourselves to new heights, making us believe we can completely remake ourselves into whatever image we desire overnight.

But then, doubt begins to creep in. Doubt over one’s ability. Doubt over the feasibility of the task. Sure enough, this doubt eats away at enthusiasm, replaces it. Maybe we were kidding ourselves all along. This is too much.

This is unsustainable.

And so we fade back into the familiar. Give up on that morning workout. Go back to eating carbs. Shelve that new novel idea. Scrap that cover letter. Rejection hurts and so does admitting to ourselves that we aren’t as great as we thought we were. And so often, we fail to even fail.

The fact of the matter is that failure is inevitable. Few people are natural talents, able to achieve greatness with ease. In fact, even the greatest of the greats didn’t achieve what they achieved without facing adversity, even if they make it look easy.

Somewhere along the way, this idea was presented to many of us that failure need be avoided at all cost. I know I’ve been a victim of this line of thinking for most of my life. But the reality is, that the only way to avoid failure is to take it head on, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.

Failing is how we learn, how we grow, how we improve and know what to do and what not to do. If we go through life expecting to be great at everything on first pass and then giving up when we find out we aren’t, then stagnation is a certainty.

More practically though, the path to avoiding failure is to set realistic, manageable goals. It’s important to always manage your expectations of yourself and understand that improvement is a slow process that requires persistence and patience. This mindset, coupled with the knowledge that rejection and setbacks will always litter the path towards success, while no guarantee, is a step in the right direction toward self-improvement.

Full disclosure: I wrote this post not from a position of experience with any sort of personal success, but as someone who is seeking it still. I do have plenty of experience with failure and with losing motivation to strive for my goals. I wrote this post to motivate myself to be better more than anything. If it helps anyone else, then that’s all the better.

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