Rudyard Kipling’s line, “I never made a mistake in my life that I couldn’t explain away afterwards,” rings so true.

Failure is part of the creation process. The important thing is how we manage it. Here are four ways to manage failure.

Acknowledge failure wholeheartedly

Why should we acknowledge failure? What good comes out of it?

  • When we accept our mistake, we grasp the reality around the mistake. False justification blurs this reality and drapes it in harmful make-believe. 
  • When we show our vulnerability, we exhibit our humanness. We immediately become a receptacle they can trust to pour their shortcomings into. In other words, we instantly become more approachable.
  • When we admit a mistake, we prevent the situation from snowballing into something much bigger and less manageable. 

Don’t assign a fixed meaning to failure

Meaning is not written in stone. There may not even be such a thing as “absolute meaning.” It’s just opinions, observations, interpretations, or perspectives. We can all agree that the world is dynamic. If we stop attaching fixed meanings to experiences, we will be able to keep a better tab on our mistakes, failures, and accomplishments.

Perhaps it’s better explained through a parable. There were two patients. Both were diagnosed with respiratory distress and their doctors recommended a thorough examination. The patients were nervous about their fates.

Through a bizarre set of coincidences, their reports were swapped.

The first patient, who had a very minor bronchial inflammation, was informed that he had Stage 1 cancer. The second patient, who actually had cancer, mistakenly learned that he had mild bronchitis.

The guy with cancer, learning incorrectly that he had a mild respiratory problem, started recovering really well. He defeated the disease, at least in his mind, and went back to his merry-making ways (cancer being what it is must have caught up with him, but that’s another story).

The other guy, suffering from nothing but an elementary bronchial infection but thinking he had cancer, became really sad. He started withdrawing into a shell. He lost the battle in his head first, and then via a psychosomatic response of the body, began to exhibit worsening symptoms from inflammation.

This parable shows that we change according to the meaning we assign to situations, irrespective of what the actual truth.

Be creative around failures

One of Massimo Bottura’s employees dropped a dish and stained an expensive carpet. Bottura, owner of Michelin three-star restaurant Osteria Francescana, did not scold him nor cut his pay. Instead, he created a new dish called Oops! I dropped the lemon tart. This is an example of being impossibly creative around failure.

We appreciate a great book, a classic movie, or an intelligent design. What is common to them? They are all finished products. We enjoy watching Finding Nemo without ever imagining that in the draft stage, there were about 125,000 sketches, and most of them sucked.

Only by being creative around failure can we get a Jackson Pollock 360-degree view of it. Pollock was the first guy to paint with his canvas on the floor. This way, he could move around his painting, thereby gaining a 360-degree perspective.

Sometimes, for all we know, success may lie merely one degree beyond our angle of visibility. 

Think of failure as “one more plan that didn’t work”

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” said Thomas Edison, adding “when I have eliminated all the ways that won’t work, I will find a way that works.” 

Why is WD-40, a handy lubricant and rust protection solvent, named so? It is because the finished product was created after 39 failed attempts.

Why should we believe success owes us anything? Why should we think immediate success is our right? Why can’t we string together our failures positively and use them as a vestibule to reach success?

Failure is just one more plan that didn’t work. And when “one more plan” becomes too many in numbers, something starts clicking. Something beautiful emerges.