There is a common four-letter “F” word that is used a lot and I want to take away its power: FAIL. In our culture there is so much pressure put on us to succeed, that to fail has become the worst thing next to death. Failing has become a dirty secret that no one wants to admit, out of fear of being brandished with a scarlet F.
In a recent interview on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed David Sedaris about his new book in which he discusses many things, including his relationship to addiction and the rise of his success. In discussing his career, Sedaris mentions that he’d dreamed of being the successful author he is today, but he also feared failure. He implied that his father expected him to fail, so it was scary for Sedaris to announce his dreams of fame because if they didn’t come to fruition, then his fathers’ expectations would have. Failure was a dark cloud waiting for him at the end of the road.
With clients, I hear failure mostly in regards to relationships or careers: I got divorced because my marriage was failing. / If this relationship ends, it means I’m a failure! I’ll never have a successful relationship. / I totally bombed my presentation today! Now my boss knows for sure I’m a failure.
What I hear in this these statements is harsh self judgement and criticism, which in turn is a form of dis-empowerment. When we have a harsh inner critic or we continually judge ourselves, wearing down our self-esteem, we are beating ourselves up from the inside out. This behavior only depletes our confidence and inner strength — they are not acts of self-compassion or self-love.
Yes, it’s important and helpful to have self discipline and motivation to help us strive to do better in our lives. But when we do it in a violent way that tears us down, that is not helpful.
What is helpful is to look at each situation and to treat ourselves with fierce compassion. Think about the way a favorite teacher may have helped you – firmly with care they point out your mistake and help you see where to make improvements, without criticizing or discouraging your efforts.
It is important to be mindful of all the ways we speak to ourselves. We can be our own teacher when we make mistakes – firm and caring. Mistakes, errors, and even failures are all learning opportunities. They allow us to see where we need to focus our attention for improvement. The opportunities for growth and improvement in our lives are endless. Take every failure as an chance for evolution, and don’t let the inner critic stop you in your tracks.