After several months of unemployment, you find yourself interviewing for your dream job, perhaps a position as a software engineer for a social media company you love. You crush your fourth interview in as many weeks, the competition is underwhelming, and you’re confident you’ll get it. By now you’ve become so attached to the idea of yourself working at the company that you’ve begun to imagine the positive effects it will have in other areas of your life—the debt you’ll be able to pay off, the house you’ll be able to afford, the new car you’ll buy and show off to your friends. Your self-esteem is already through the roof.
In the end, however, the company hires Suzy Sue over you because she has “passion.”
The devastation pierces through to the core of your soul and upends the vision of yourself you’ve preemptively come to identify with. You respond by diving deep into your turbulent mind where worry consumes you: “My life is over. I’ll never get a job as good as that one. I’ll never get another job, period. My debt is going to swallow me whole. What are my friends going to think? They’re going to abandon me. I’m worthless.”
If that sounds like an exaggerated response, that’s because it is. But exaggerating is precisely what many of us tend to do when we fall short of accomplishing goals that matter to us, especially ones that are so tied to our individual identities. This tendency to assume the worst when misfortune befalls us is called “catastrophizing.” It’s a common response to failure and something many of us do without even realizing it. Needless to say, drowning ourselves in worry can have tremendously negative effects on our well-being in the present. It also prevents us from learning from failure, which we need to be able to do if we want to accomplish future goals with more ease.
Fortunately, there are tools we can use to counter this tendency. But before putting them into practice, we must first be able to catch ourselves in the act of catastrophizing. To do this, we need to exercise mindfulness. Cultivating an awareness of our experience in the present moment allows us to use the following techniques to clear the fog of fear surrounding failure and begin the process of learning.
Replace Self-Pity With Self-Compassion
When caught in the storm of emotion that follows a failure, it’s essential to avoid feeling pity for ourselves and treat ourselves with compassion instead. Though it sounds like there’s a fine line dividing self-compassion and self-pity, there are actually stark differences between the two. Showing ourselves love and encouragement in times of suffering makes us feel better about ourselves, helps us feel connected to others, and makes us more resilient to suffering as a result. On the flipside, insulting and feeling pity for ourselves only mires us further in the baseless fear that things will not work out. Which path would you rather take?
Realize You’re Not In It Alone
Showing ourselves compassion naturally leads us to re-contextualize our experience by extending that compassion to those around us. We begin to realize that failure is a fact of life, that everyone alive has experienced it. The same is true for you, and you can even grow stronger in the process and tackle your next goal with all that you’ve learned. Knowing that we’re not alone in our struggle can be a profoundly encouraging realization, one that makes us feel connected to those around us, and therefore more resilient to the pain that follows failure.
Showing Gratitude For What You Do Have
In the wake of failure, the word “gratitude” sounds like a small and insignificant solution to what we perceive to be an unsolvable problem. A life-defining goal slips through our fingers and we’re just supposed to be grateful that it happened? Well, not exactly. Gratitude is appreciating all that you do have, not minimizing what you’ve lost. There’s certainly a time and place to grieve a lost dream. But when we find ourselves caught in such a storm of feelings, punctuating our grief with moments of gratitude can pull us back into the present, where we already have so much: a life worth living, a beautiful world to live it in, people whom we love and who love us in return. Appreciating all that we do have can help us remember that the success we were betting on was never the secret to happiness. We’re much more likely to find peace and happiness here in the present moment.
Growing Stronger Every Day
At Oats Overnight, we believe that leaning into learning is the recipe for personal growth and success. Embracing setbacks and growing from our mistakes is how we got started as a company and how we continue to improve each day. We invite you to join us by pursuing your own goals as the strongest version of yourself, fueled by a premium breakfast and backed by a community whose members help one another overcome the challenges of daily life.
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