Jan 16, 2023

Failure can feel demoralizing and cause us to want to turn away and quit. We can get stuck reviewing all the ways we did not achieve the outcome in a given situation and allow self-defeating thoughts to take hold. This is an important moment to catch ourselves and remember – adopting a growth mindset guarantees some degree of failure.

If we are taking risks and entering into new and novel scenarios, we are risking failure. We don’t grow by repeating the same things – we grow by stretching ourselves. In the stretch moments we are building skills and competencies in new areas as well as risk-tolerance and emotional agility. Trust that in your moment of setback your learning is taking hold and the invisible aspects of growth are still at work in you.

In the business world, failure is seen an essential ingredient for innovation. So we can think of our growth mindset as the way we are innovating in our own life. With each new experience, we learn what tweaks we need to make as we go back to the drawing board. We can reflect on what went well and what did not. We have an opportunity right now – in the moment of setback – to pause and look at the intel we just gained from this experience and use it to innovate our future strategies.



Instead of defining success as a fixed outcome, we can adjust our mindset to accept a new definition of success as learning and improvement. Of-course we want to feel successful and achieve the outcomes we want, but that will come as we continue our growth process. In the moment of setback it’s important to take our lessons and mark our progress.

Assessing our progress is an essential and often forgotten step. If we can take some time to look back at last year and the year before that, the way we were living our life and the types of opportunities that felt like risks back then, we can notice how far we’ve come. The process is working and we are getting somewhere and it’s important for us to acknowledge ourselves for that.


If you feel demoralized, you can bet this experience contains many valuable lessons. You tried, you went for it! You stepped out of your comfort zone and faced your fears and that needs to be commended. Well done.

Maybe you were taking a risk on something you really cared about. Perhaps you are learning what it feels like to care deeply and are gaining clarity on your values. Gaining clarity on your values is always time well spent.

What you glean from your lessons will help you determine what areas of your growth to focus on next. Trial and error is the fastest way to learn – so do something with this new self-awareness.

Maybe you had never done the thing you attempted and could not know how you would react in that situation. Well, now you know. It’s as simple as that. Now you know the truth of what you’re ready for and what areas you may need to make adjustments in to have a different outcome next time.

Stepping back from the stressful event and re-appraising it in a positive way, is what researchers call “positive re-appraisal”. It is an adaptive strategy that has been shown to have positive implications on our well-being. And so if we can detach from the stressful event, take a step back, and find something beneficial about it, we may increase our resilience to stressful events. I am constantly using positive re-appraisal to identify what I’ve learned from the experience and to clarify how I want to grow in the future.


It’s a good time to reconnect to your core values. Are your actions in alignment with your values? Setbacks are a great time to reflect on this question and make decisions about whether to stay the course or go in another direction. Reflect on what you are working towards and why you want it. Take some time to journal on these questions so you can get clear on your values and long term goals. Knowing your why can help you determine what your next best course of action is.


Research shows small deliberate tweaks infused with your values can make a huge difference in your life. As we tweak our actions, the goal is to find the perfect balance between challenge and competence. We are not diving into huge risks with no foundation. And if we are, it’s no wonder we may be feeling overwhelmed by our failures. When we make small tweaks and build up our efforts incrementally, we are slowly building competence and risk tolerance and strategically moving forward towards risks that are within our capacity to be successful.

If we don’t reflect and take stock on where we are and what a realistic next step is, we could be risking too much and neglecting to build a supportive foundation. So take the time to do an honest inventory on where you are by using the intel gained from this setback. What did the experience teach you about yourself? In what areas do you need more knowledge? Where can you gain this knowledge and experience?


If we are new to the growth process, we are likely gaining humility along the way. If we have lived much of our lives with a fixed mindset, continuously performing and reinforcing things we are already good at, we may be experiencing an upsurge of emotions surrounding our imperfections and vulnerabilities. Trust – this is part of the process. As these challenging emotions surface, they are building the capacity inside ourselves to hold them and develop emotional agility. Emotional agility is defined by Susan David, PhD as:

Being flexible with your thoughts and feelings so that you can respond optimally to everyday situations. Emotional agility is not about controlling our thoughts or forcing ourselves to think more positively. It’s about listening up, calming down and living with more intention. We are building our emotional agility when we choose to pause and face our difficult emotions with curiosity, self-compassion and acceptance. We can take this opportunity to understand that life isn’t always easy, but we can continue despite our challenges to pursue our loftiest goals.

We may begin to recognize, a life of purpose and meaning is a life of growth and challenge and you can’t have one without the other.

As we build our growth mindset and emotional agility, we need to commend ourselves for showing up to this work! Taking risks and stumbling as we try new things is admirable and we can feel really good about our efforts. We can remind ourselves to take as long as we need in between challenges to regroup and take good care of ourselves. Remember – our capacity is being built even during periods of reflection and non-action.

Over time, we can become empowered by our failures and begin to see them as a necessary part of our growth. We can rest assured that a life of challenge and forward progress is what makes life meaningful. Over time, we may notice we still feel on-purpose in our setbacks and deeper meaning and resolve are being established.

So I wish you a new definition of success that supports your long game. I wish you deep lessons and all the ups and downs of growth and progress so that you can continue building your competence and emotional agility. And lastly, I wish you the resilience to continue doing the great work you are doing in the world.

Rest up and keep going!