Using Failures as Guideposts to Success
Monday September 24, 2012

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In the October issue of Harper’s Bazaar (US), actress Kate Walsh shares her thoughts on being appreciative that success didn’t arrive until well into her mid-thirties (“I Made It After 35”, pg 256). A wonderful article documenting her struggle, she reflects on the many lessons she was taught in the journey through her twenties, and how thankfully she was able to navigate these times without the hindrance of fame, so that when it did finally arrive, she knew what to let roll off her back and how to appropriately handle situations that had they occurred earlier in her life, she made not have handled as gracefully.

Recently, I have received a handful of Ask Shannon emails about what to do when life doesn’t go as you had planned. In nearly each email, the women were highly successful and reaching for grand goals. And while from my perspective, they were clearly quite successful but had bumped up against some adversity that would require of them to create a new plan of action, they were frustrated, doubtful and a bit uncertain of what to do next.

All three of these emotions are common and understandable because when we invest our time into any venture, it is beyond disappointing to be denied (initially) because we haven’t made a plan for the alternative . . . yet.

The fact that we respond so strongly to moments such as these is actually a good sign of where our passions lay. These moments can reveal a lot about who we are, what we desire, what we believe we are capable of and the true depth of our strength depending upon how we respond.

Life would be a wonderful utopia if everything we ever wanted came true, and we weren’t confronted by roadblocks; however, we know that is not the case. On the outside, it may seem that other people are spoon-fed a better lot than us, but we have to cast aside this comparison because we only have control over ourselves and the situations that present themselves to us.

It is our job to allow these setbacks, these long bouts of waiting and wondering to be molded in to a time when we choose to develop our talents, our creativity, and our strength, so that when the amazing moments arrive, we can grab them with both hands and make the most of them without taking them for granted.

Today I’d like to share with you ways to better navigate after the initial setback has occurred, so that you are continuously moving forward toward the intended success that that particular failure was intended to lead you toward.

1. Focus on small goals that will help lead to the larger goal. Achieving small successes along the way is what will gradually, but steadily, improve your confidence to believe that you can indeed be successful. Such successes may not be viewed by the outer world as much of an accomplishment, but if it’s something you have finally completed for the first time (speaking in front of a group of people about your business plan, writing your first blog post, or finally getting on a plane to see the other side of the country), it is a success and you should allow these successes to lift you up.

2. Refuse to be deterred. For example, if your first round of attempts to find a publisher or literary agent aren’t successful, keep trying. You may have to change your proposal, you may have to change your direction slightly, but keep trying. The only people who never taste the deliciousness of success are those who throw in the towel. You may not end up where you thought you’d end up, but it is my understanding through experience and observance of others’ examples that life is guiding you to where you have the potential to one day be, but in order to get there, you must not stop.

“You don’t have to have all the big answers right now. Just ask the questions and keep asking the questions. Let them simmer in your life. The answers will arrive when you are ready.” –Eckhart Tolle

3. Look up to role models. When you are in the trenches trying to figure out which way you should go and/or how you’re going to pick yourself up, look to people who have been there before you and have come out the other side successfully. In times of doubt, look to concrete examples that prove that someone who was on a similar journey as yourself made it work. If you are struggling novelist, look to J.K. Rowling. If you’re a struggling chef, look to Julia Child. If you’re a struggling entrepreneur, look to Henry Ford. In other words, lean on them. Be inspired by them as you establish faith that everything will work out.

One of the most frustrating parts about making a plan or setting goals is that often the world doesn’t agree with our timeline. But the essential element we must never forget is that in order to create the life we desire, we do have to know what we want and we do have to have a plan of attack. In the meantime, we must also pack our patience and know that as we become better at navigating what the world throws at us, eventually a wonderful life will reveal itself. And in essence, it is sort of like a gift because we never are quite sure when it will arrive, but we can be certain that due to our efforts, that it at least has a very, very strong chance of showing up. And that . . . that is what makes all the effort, time and nights of questioning and endless doubts worth it.

7 thoughts on “Using Failures as Guideposts to Success

  1. Thank you so much for this post. Im in the middle of a post grad degree exam and it feels as if this post was speaking directly to me today. I’m always so scared of failure, but this post has really helped me to concentrate on what I’ve accomplished thus far and to just keep going. Thank you Shannon

  2. This is another amazing post for the books Shannon. I have gotten into the habit of printing out some of your posts and clipping them on my mirror or notebook so i can easily go back and read them

    xo Stephanie

  3. I think you meant:

    Life would be a wonderful utopia if everything or

    Life would be wonderfully utopian if everything

    Sorry to be so picky! Great post as usual!

  4. Great post and just what I needed after being overwhelmed by an enthusiastic boss (new). I plan to make a plan for the school year and take baby steps in implementing them and find ways to improve on methods that doesn’t seem to be working currently. Some of the quotes included will be printed and hung as reminders for me to do well – especially the one about failures and to have opportunity to do it wisely this time around. Again – just what I needed. Thank you! 🙂

  5. Beautiful, timely post. I myself am suffering with the self-doubt after a recent self-declared failure. I really thought I would be so much further along in my career than I am. But I truly know, in the deepest fathoms of my heart, my path is correct. My eyes may not see through the fog to where that path leads and as usual the steps along that foggy path are the hardest small steps to take. It is very reassuring to know I am not the only one.

    Thank for your insight,


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