How to Forgive Yourself for Past Failures

How to Forgive Yourself for Past Failures

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” — Japanese Proverb

Looking back on it now, as I sit here to reflect, I realize that my life has been anything but perfect. In fact, I’ve failed more times than I’d like to remember. And they weren’t small failures — they were monumental, painful, earth-shattering failures. During those times, I wondered how I could ever forgive myself for those failures, questioning my very existence.

But, the truth of the matter is that failure in life is meant to serve us. Failure is a universal chisel, shaping and molding us to live a better life in the future. It’s nature’s way of improving upon its design. Darwinism and natural selection are built upon a foundation of failure. It’s those failures that help species improve with each passing generation, all the way down to the genetic and atomic level.

Still, as much as we can reason how much failure is meant to serve us in the long term, when we’re going through it, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. It’s hard to forgive ourselves for failing at something in life, especially when we put all of our energy, enthusiasm, and drive behind a certain goal. When we become so emotionally attached to something, failure can all but ruin us.

I talk about failure a lot because it truly has served me in life. If you’ve followed my posts or have read some of my books, you know just how I feel about failure. But what is failure, really? What does it really mean or symbolize? And how can we forgive ourselves after we’ve experienced monumental failures, the likes of which can all but decimate us, reducing us to dust, so to speak?

Well, right now, if you’re going through failure, and you’re in the midst of that pain and heartache, then my heart goes out to you. Truly, I feel for you because I know that experience all too well. But, you can forgive yourself for past failures, pick up the pieces, and move on with your life if you just allow yourself to. You can even build something monumental on a foundation of utter destruction and failure.

In the past, many people have written to me and asked for my advice on failure. I’ve heard people commenting on failure from all walks of life, having experienced all types of failure. While I’m no psychiatrist, I do understand the fundamental needs of human beings, and have experienced my fair share of things in life to know what to do in order to move past failure.


Forgiving Yourself for Failures

First, let’s define failure. Wikipedia presents it as “the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.” But how does one decide that they’ve actually failed at something? Is it when a particular goal wasn’t met on the desired date? Or is it after a major setback? Or, maybe something else?

Before we can forgive ourselves for failure, we need to figure out what failure really is. Who gets to say that we’ve actually failed at something? Do we decide that we’ve failed? Or, do we leave that up to society or our peers to determine that we didn’t make it?

Did J.K. Rowling consider herself a failure when all 12 major publishers rejected the first Harry Potter book? Did Henry Ford, after going bankrupt two times before the age of 40, consider himself a failure? Did his peers look at him as a failure? Was Steve Jobs a failure when he was ousted from Apple in 1985?

Who gets to define that we’ve failed at something? Surely, great failure can be the source of great inspiration. But absolute failure can only occur when we completely give up on something. When we’re talking about relationships, failure might be out of our control. When we make a mistake and another person refuses to forgive us, leading to things like divorce or a breakup, failure can be out of our hands.

Forgiving yourself for a divorce or any other type of breakup can be hard, to say the least. The biggest problem with that is that it’s almost entirely out of our control. Even when we do everything to win the other person back, it might not work out in our favor. That can lead to even more heartache, pain, anxiety, stress, and even fear of the future. Still, in time, we can move past even that.

But, when failure involves a personal goal, one that wasn’t met when we wanted to meet it, forgiving yourself for failure is a little bit easier. Why? Because, we can still march towards that goal, no matter how many setbacks or defeats we might suffer along the way. When we can learn to use those so-called failures to fuel us rather than to hold us back, some remarkable things can happen.

But, no matter what type of failure we’re talking about, we can forgive ourselves over time as long as we keep the following 5 principles in mind.


#1 — It’s Okay to Fail

If you want to forgive yourself for failure, no matter what kind of failure it might be, understand that it’s okay to fail. Whatever definition you’ve created in your mind of failure, if you’ve experienced that, understand that it is okay. The greater that failure is, the better it will be for you in the long run. Today, you might not understand it. But, there will come a time when that failure will serve you.

You might feel like your whole life is crashing down around you, and that everything you once hoped for no longer makes sense. You might feel like curling up into a fetal position, of never leaving your bed or seeing the light of day, and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel those feelings. They will pass. Don’t try to escape from them with substances. Really feel, reflect, and experience it. And realize that it’s okay to fail, even if it’s a monumental failure.

Failure is meant to serve us. It shatters our egos, forcing us to look inward. Often, we question our very existence, seeking meaning, even turning to our higher power. And that’s also okay. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to seek meaning and be angry. It’s okay to have regrets. But let them wash over you, like a wave crashing onto the shore, eventually making its return to the open waters.

And keep in mind that some of the most famous people in the world have failed the most times before succeeding. So it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed. It matters just how many times you get back up after you fall.

An old Japanese proverb says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” Looking to the bible, you’ll find a similar passage in Proverbs 24:16 that states “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.”


#2 — Ignore the Naysayers

Today, in our society, there is a lot of negativity. There are many people who enjoy seeing others fail, and can’t seem to wrap their minds around people who are happy, healthy, or successful. When you fail, people will most certainly come out of the woodwork to tell you, “I told you so.” Everyone will have an opinion about what you should’ve or could’ve done differently.

Don’t listen to any of them.

There will be naysayers. There will be people who offer up their opinion, or treat you poorly, maybe even make fun of you. Ignore them. What others have to say about you doesn’t matter. This is your journey. Not theirs. It truly doesn’t matter what people say about you. People will talk no matter what. When things are good, they’ll question you. When things are bad, they’ll mock you.

Learn to take what people say with a grain of salt. Just do you. Keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t give up. If someone makes you feel like less of a person, then they don’t deserve to have your ear. True friends will help to inspire and motivate you. As long as what you’re doing is something good and it makes you happy, just keep doing it until you succeed.


#3 — You Deserve to be Forgiven

What would you do, tomorrow, if your best friend in the whole world came to you and told you a story about how he failed at something. What would you tell him (or her)? What kind of advice would you offer up? Maybe they made a huge mistake. Maybe everything that they once cherished or desired came crashing down all around them. What would you say?

You would tell them not to be so hard on themselves. You would tell them that it’s okay to fail. You would say that there are more opportunities, more fish in the sea, or more chances to try and try again. Wouldn’t you? So, why would you offer up that advice but not take it? We are all experts on advising others on things, but when it comes to our lives, we beat ourselves up relentlessly.

Take a piece of paper, and write out what you would say to a friend if they failed at something you failed at. Describe how you would respond to your friend. List out all the reasons that it’s okay, and how they should forgive themselves. Then, read it out loud. Look in the mirror and truly feel like you’re speaking to your friend.

Because, deep down inside, that friend is your inner self. It’s that fragile thing that’s wrapped up in our egos that can break all too easily. Tell that friend of yours why it’s okay that you failed. Explain it in plain English. Make it abundantly clear why they can and should move past it, forgive themselves, and move on with their lives.

Go on. Do it.


#4 — Nothing in Life That’s Worthwhile Will Come Easy

One of the biggest root problems we have with failure, is that, oftentimes, we set ourselves up for our own demise. Why? We think that success at something should be easy. We’re used to instant gratification. The very fact that we have on-demand everything is woven into the very fabric of our society today. We don’t want to wait. Why should we?

But, nothing in life that’s worthwhile will ever come easy. There’s a reason why monumental achievements are hard. If they were easy, everyone would be sitting pretty. We would all be rich, happy, healthy, and wise. However, that’s not the case. Big goals take big sacrifices. When we realize just how much we have to give up to achieve something big, most of us turn back.

The truth? We’re not willing to always put in the work for something monumental. We’re not always willing to give something all that we’ve got, risk it all, and put everything on the line. When we refuse to back down, even when we fall, that’s when incredible things begin to happen. And that can only come in the face of multiple failures.

You can forgive yourself for failure when you realize that, if you truly want something — and I mean truly and utterly right down to your very core — then you need to fail and do so many times. As long as you don’t give up, you didn’t actually fail. Thomas Edison once said that “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Edison ‘failed’ over 10,000 times to invent a commercially-viable electric lightbulb. What would have happened if he gave up after 1,000 tries, or even 9,000 tries? No, he realized that it was so worthwhile, and knew it wouldn’t come easy. In fact, after failing 9,000 times, a young reporter asked Edison how it felt to fail so many times. His response? “I didn’t fail – I just learned 9,000 ways not to make a light bulb.”


#5 — Failures are a Blessing in Disguise

It’s hard to see failures for the blessings that they might be. That’s part of the reason why we have such a hard time forgiving ourselves for failures. But, failures are a blessing in disguise. While you might not feel that way when you’re going through the failure and are in the thick of things, so to speak, they help to serve you in the long run.

Failures help to redefine our points of view, giving us more clarity and understanding about all things in life. Whether you fail in love, your career, finances, relationships, or anything else, learn to use those failures to grow. Use the failures to help enhance your vision of what you truly want out of life, fueling your quest for a bigger and brighter future.

You never actually know where failure is going to lead you, so don’t beat yourself up over it. There’s a bigger reason to things that we fail to see at the time when we’re wading through the darkness. We’re unable to see the light so often because we’re stuck in a state of depression, upset, fear, anxiety, and stress.

Oftentimes, we need to turn to our higher power. Whatever your higher power might be — whether it’s God, Allah, Buddha, or the Spiritual Oneness that binds us all — turn to it. Have faith, belief, and trust in the fact that whatever is happening right now is temporary. And, many people before you have gone through whatever it is that you’re going through.