Failing Better

By Holly Russel, Regular ContributorAugust 2, 2015

A friend and mentor said something on Facebook the other day that stopped me in my tracks: “What if failing at being ideal didn’t mean that you were terrible?”

Really think about that.

How often do we internalize our failures to the point of letting them erode our self-worth? For me, the answer is probably at least once a day.

I put off returning a friend’s phone call = I am a terrible friend.

I did something kind of thoughtless that wound up hurting someone’s feelings = I am such a selfish jerk.

I skipped spin class = I am lazy and unmotivated.

My dog got out of the yard because I didn’t check that the gate was closed = I am a careless and horrible pet owner.

When other people make mistakes, we try to comfort them with a kind word. We don’t judge our friends for their faults, and we certainly don’t love them any less for being less than perfect. So why when it comes to our own faults and failures is it so difficult to separate the doer from the deed?


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When we fail in a big way – like not getting into the school of our choice or getting fired from a job – practicing self-compassion can come a little more naturally. We’ve heard countless stories of successful entrepreneurs or famous athletes failing early in their careers and later emerging triumphant. Talking ourselves out of internalizing those failures can sometimes be easy.

It’s the stories we tell ourselves when we fail at life’s little things that can make or break our self-esteem. When we’re not the most supportive friend we could be. When we cause a fight with a loved one. When we bail on a personal commitment. These failures happen every day – but they don’t make us terrible people.

The thing that struck me most about my friend’s question was that she called it “failing to be ideal” – in other words, not being perfect. And, that’s a useful distinction. You can fail at being a perfect student without failing as a student completely. You can fail at being a perfect sister without being a failure of a sister. Putting failure in its place as a natural part of life and relationships can totally reframe your perspective (and help you go a little easier on yourself).

One of my favorite sayings is, “Mistakes are proof that you’re trying.”

We’re all trying – and we’re all tripping, fumbling, and searching along the way. The next time you fall short of your ideal, remember it is just that: an ideal. Let’s recognize our failures as something we do instead of something we are!

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Are you hard on yourself when you fail? What are words of encouragement you could tell yourself when this happens? Tell us below!

About Holly

HOLLY_RUSSEL_writer_bio_(1).jpgHolly Russel has a BA in Journalism from New York University. She’s a Senior Marketing Copywriter for a pet health company and counts dogs among her favorite things on the planet –along with tacos, books, social media, and the City of New York. When she makes it out from behind the computer screen, Holly spends her time practicing yoga, kayaking, and indoor cycling. She lives and writes in Wilmington, NC.


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