Many years ago I tried to start a new business. It had many moving parts and included a large group of people. It failed to get off the ground. I spent the next year and half ruminating over my failure. During that time, a colleague was attempting to entice me to join him in a new venture. Still hurting from the failed experience, I kept refusing to get involved.

Eventually, my colleague and I sat down and began to map out a plan. We started a company that proved financially successful and lasted for twenty years. The lesson I learned from that experience was that it is not failure that defines you but how fast you recover. When I took the time to analyze the failure of the first project, I began to see why it didn’t succeed. Essentially we had not developed back up plans for the roadblocks that inevitably developed.

Because of my personal experience, I have often counseled clients and participants in my workshops to reframe how they view failure. I have urged them to review what went wrong and then to move forward with new endeavors. Unfortunately, many of today’s unemployed hold themselves responsible for their situation. They dwell on past decisions or what they consider missed opportunities. A more realistic assessment would lead to the understanding that the present economy has had a tremendous impact on the availability of jobs. It is important to take a look back and not get caught up in self-blame, but to discover if there are clues that can lead to one’s next job or career.

Resilience refers to the process of recovering from adversity. Psychologists have examined how people deal with setbacks. In fact, the American Psychological Association has developed a pamphlet entitled The Road To Resilience that can be found at http://www.apahelpcenter.org. I recently came across another great resource that examines resilience. Rick Newman has written a book entitled Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Both of these resources present the major characteristics associated with resilient people.

There are some common traits among individuals who quickly move past failure and indeed benefit from it. They are able to step back and evaluate their failure. Their evaluation helps them pinpoint the factors that contributed to the setback. They learn to plan for failure in the future. More simply stated: they always have a plan A and a plan B. In this way, they use failure to adjust their approach to new ventures or projects. Essentially, they extract positive information from their failed experience. Profiles of individuals who have recovered from failure always point to their persistence and confidence. Unlike me, they do not become paralyzed by their failed experience.

You can strengthen your ability to deal with larger setbacks by keeping small adversities in perspective. Begin by avoiding catastrophizing them. Try to learn from small setbacks and move forward incorporating what you have learned. It is also important to maintain social support in your life. Many times after a failure, such as loss of a job, people tend to withdraw from family and friends. Social support is critical if you are to move forward.

As Rick Newman points out, some of the most successful people have met failure. They ultimately succeeded because they learned what they could from the experience and continued to take on new challenges.

About the Author

John L. Manni, Ed.D.

John L. Manni, Ed.D., is a licensed psychologist practicing in Spring House, Pennsylvania.

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