Shall we talk about the “F” word?

Failing at something is inevitable and can take a toll on your mental health, it is important to learn healthy ways to deal with not succeeding.

Rose-Marie Athiley, Opinion Editor

“Learn from your mistakes” they say. How many times have you heard that in your lifetime? Enough to have it ingrained in your mind but with no guidance on how to do so. At least that has been my personal experience and I know I’m not alone in this. As a student leader, this school year I’ve become hyper aware of how impactful not meeting goals and expectations can be.

Failure is something we all have to endure, often times more than once. If not dealt with properly, the consequences are dire. Especially as a Black woman; I am not given failure as an option. One mistake and it’s over. “We have to work 10 times as hard to attain half of what they have,” and we only get one chance. This pressure to get it right the first time can take a toll on our mental health. Anxiety, decrease in self-esteem and self-doubt are a few ways failure can affect you if you don’t address it. I’ve learned this first-hand and it’s led to ongoing learning experience that has already reaped benefits.

You probably expect me to say acceptance is the first step. My first step was learning how I deal or rather how I don’t deal with failure. I learned that my responses are suppression and projection. Real healthy amiright? Basically, I found that I either suppress the feeling of disappointment or I project the energy I should be putting towards feeling it and projecting that energy into productivity. I find myself doing homework all day to keep my mind busy so I wouldn’t have to think about it. Once again, real healthy. The healing journey begins once I realize and acknowledge what I am doing and have always done. I didn’t want to admit it at first but all I did was let my feelings build up and eventually that volcano erupts and I’m glad that I’ve learned to prevent the eruption and the damage that comes along with it. Figure out what your response to failure is and if they’re unhealthy, weine yourself from those actions.

After that then work on acceptance. This is my hardest step. After what I considered one of my greater failures, it took a minute to fully accept it to the point where I could think about it and not feel that overwhelming disappointment and when I say it was hard…I mean randomly  bursting into tears hard. But it was a part of the process; I accepted it and let myself feel all the emotions. That path showed me how damaging my previous response to failure was to my mental health. Not allowing myself to feel my emotions led to me feeling worse, I would isolate myself, have zero motivation, feel completely defeated and my anxiety would skyrocket. I would feel as if I had to be strong, but as we tell men in conversations about masculinity, being strong doesn’t mean not having emotions. Acceptance definitely takes time, but it’s a necessary part of the process. Get all up in your feelings.

Acceptance allows you to reflect on the failure and that is when you can begin to learn from it through evaluation. The things you evaluate are for the most part things you’ve thought about, but not in a learning process way. For example, I would spend hours wondering where I went wrong, and if it was this or that which kept me from my goal. When evaluating, I thought about what I did and how I could’ve done it better, not to kick myself but for future reference’s sake. It may seem like a slight change in mindset but it truly makes a difference. The way to learn from your mistakes and failures is to evaluate all aspects for the purpose of utilizing them in the future. An important part of that is also to remember to evaluate the variables that are/were within your control. You couldn’t control that it rained on the day of your interview and you got soaked because you had to park far away. Don’t keep wondering why it had to rain or the parking wasn’t closer. Make a note to check the weather forecast next time and invest in a raincoat. It’s processes like that which turn failure into a lesson and allow you to fully learn from it and improve.

The last step is application, I’ve found this one easiest but also sometimes easier said than done. It is the easiest to lay out though, all you really have to do is follow through. After you’ve evaluated and took note of all the things that could be improved and you should/shouldn’t have done, apply them in your next endeavor. You’ll feel much more prepared and it will build your self confidence for the next adventure. Failure can be learned from, you just have to know how to do it. The conversation about mental health is a continuous one, and learning how to learn from failure is one way to work towards improving your mental health.