Who doesn’t want to succeed ?! It makes us feel joy and pleasure and strengthens our self-confidence. There is nothing like the feeling of victory. However, what happen when we fail?
Judy, a 36 year-old woman, is married and has three children. Three years ago, she decided to return to school and pursue law school. It took her a while to implement the decision and collect information about the registration. Finally, she was able to study for the entrance exam for law school (LSAT). She studied hard and even took a preparation course, but her score was lower than she expected. Judy was angry, annoyed, and frustrated, and decided she was not smart enough to ever attend law school. She felt ashamed, dropped the idea, and never told anyone outside the family about it. She internalized the failure and blamed herself. Since then, she never tried again or went back to school. She continues to work as a bookkeeper. Judy is very frustrated and discouraged but does not make any changes because “[she] is not smart enough to be a lawyer.” Judy approached me for psychotherapy due to her lack of joy in life, irritability, and depression.
We all want to succeed. Even the slightest success makes us feel joy and pleasure and strengthens our self-confidence. There is nothing like the feeling of victory. However, in real life, we have success but also failure. What happens to us when we experience failure? Failure acquaints us with feelings of disappointment and anger and hurts our self-image often. As a result, we tend to stop and keep going in the direction it wanted to go. Failure is defined as a lack of success that we defined or someone else defined for us. Hence, failure is subjective and is based on our beliefs: perceived failure in the eyes of one person may be considered a success in the eyes of another person. The degree of failure is also subjective, whether we look at the process as a failure or just at the result, and so on. Psychological factors that may influence the perception of failure include: low self-esteem, poor planning (e.g., learning time too short for the specific test), lack of knowledge, unrealistic expectations, overload of tasks in a short period of time, or sometimes fear of success (fear of change and preference to live in a state built even if you are not satisfied). Judy’s test score was maybe not high enough to be accepted to her target university but was high enough to be accepted to other universities. When we reviewed together the steps she took for test preparation, we found out that she mainly studied for a relatively short period of time. Therefore, her automatically inferring that a low exam score equates with a feeling of unworthiness, is not rational thinking because it is not based on facts. Indeed, it was very disappointing when she could not achieve the goal she set for herself, but that does not mean she could not achieve her goal to study in law school as she was still able to be considered as a strong candidate for other universities. During the session, Judy learned to develop rational thinking, such as: “Yes, I am very disappointed that I didn’t receive the score I wanted, but it doesn’t mean I am not smart. I can still try to continue to study, retake the exam again, or apply to different universities.”
If we can consider failure as part of life and as a way to realize that we have strengths and weakness, it will help us to overcome it and feel even stronger. Don’t forget that successful people succeed not because they didn’t fail but because they look at failure as a challenge and a way to improve.
If you try and don’t succeed, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure.
The article is based on an article I wrote in Hebrew published in Israpost Magazine