COPING WITH FAILURE

How to Recover From an Epic Fail

A step-by-step method for dealing with--and overcoming--a huge failure in your life or career.
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The term "epic fail" gets bounced around a fair amount and probably means different things to different people. In my mind, an epic fail is when you fail to achieve a goal that's an essential part of your life story. It might be the failure of a business you always wanted to start, or a book you spent a decade writing.

You put your heart and soul into a big project that really meant something to you...and it just didn't happen. That's epic.

So, then, what do you do? As somebody who has experienced some truly epic fails in my life, I've come up with a formula that has kept me going:

1. Stop complaining.

Yes, your efforts didn't get the result you wanted. Yes, it's a disappointment. However, every second you spend complaining about the situation is only setting your failure into concrete. Vent once or twice, then suck it up.

2. Take responsibility.

Your epic fail wasn't because of the market, competition, customer, economy, or anything else that was out of your control. You failed because you weren't smart enough to adapt to circumstances. Period.

If you start blaming things that are outside your control for your failure, you're handing your future destiny over to "luck" and the uncontrollable. Accept responsibility. You screwed up. Live with it.

3. Forgive yourself.

It's only after you've taken full responsibility for your epic fail that you can afford to give yourself some slack. As long as you remember that there's no such thing as an "A for effort," it's fine to take pride in the fact that you did your best. Assuming you did, of course.

4. Celebrate the failure.

This is the most difficult part, but probably the most important. Consider: It's impossible to have an epic fail if you're not attempting something epic. You were dreaming big--epic big--and that's more than 99 percent of the people in this world ever do.

Yeah, it would have been great if you'd won, but the real loser isn't the one who plays and fails, it's the person who never dares to play at all. So celebrate already.

5. Debrief yourself.

Stand back from the situation and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What did I do that worked?
  2. What did I do that didn't work?
  3. What could/should I have done differently?
  4. What did I miss completely?

Since this is an epic fail, you should plan on spending at least a week (with few distractions) really thinking about these questions and coming up with written, detailed answers.

6. Recommit yourself.

Now it's time to put the failure behind you. It happened and you've learned what you can from it. The only question now is: Can you summon the emotional strength to move forward and try again?

Be honest with yourself. If the answer is no, you're done with that goal. Let it go. Find something else to do that really gets you motivated.

If the answer is yes, then continue to treat success as a must. Recommit yourself to do whatever it takes (within legal and ethical bounds) to achieve an epic success.

7. Create a new plan.

Based on what you've learned from the epic fail, create a plan of action that will lead you toward your goal. If you've truly recommitted yourself, creating this plan will get you energized and excited.

However, if you feel any "oh God, not again" dread and the plan isn't motivating you, you haven't really done the previous step. Go back to step 6 and really decide. It has to be 100 percent commitment or it's not worth bothering.

8. Reality-check your plan.

Now that you've got the plan, run it by somebody whom you trust and who has experience achieving this kind of goal. For example, if you're making another run at starting your own business, get a local entrepreneur to critique your new business plan.

9. Execute the plan.

Take massive action to create momentum. Whenever anything reminds you of your epic fail, use that emotional energy to drive you forward.

As I said, I've used this method repeatedly to recover from some pretty epic failures in my life, like failed marriages and books that haven't sold well at all.

However, and as a result, I'm now (finally) happily married and on the verge of (finally) having a book that looks likely to go bestseller.

So this method really works. I can vouch for it.

Pre-order my new book and get an exclusive bonus chapter (for you and a friend) and a signed bookplate.

Last updated: Feb 28, 2014

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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