Navigating the Shame of Failure: How to look at it as an opportunity

Navigating the Shame of Failure: How to look at it as an opportunity

The “F” Word

This month, when I was running errands or overhearing people speaking on the street, the concept of failure was the subject of many conversations. In fact, the topic came up so much that I just felt drawn to explore it and break down how the F-word – Failure – can be reframed in such a way that becomes an opportunity.

A handsome well-dressed man his mid-40s sits in front of me. By every societal measure, he is a success. He has an executive position with a lot of responsibility, he owns his home, and he has a loving family whom he adores. As we talk about his passions and desires, his shoulders slump. He drops his head. His body language speaks of defeat and disappointment and he hasn’t even said a word yet. He tells me a story about when he was younger and arrived home with an elated feeling of pride because he received 90% on a test that he worked so hard to achieve. He was bounding with joy and anticipation to share the exciting news with his father. Instead of receiving the longed-for pat on the back, his father said, “why didn’t you get 100%” and turned away. It was a decisive moment in this man’s young life. Since then, his life has been unconsciously driven by his performance complex and compulsive need for perfection.

He tells me why he isn’t willing to take an action towards something that he has been longing to do for a long time. He has consistently been making the safe choices. But even he can admit that there is something deeper inside that is calling for – demanding even – that he breaks out of the box and starts taking a risk.

“There is no room for failure”, he tells me.

Why failure is taboo

For many people driven by the need to perform, failure is taboo and banished from the realm of possibility. It is just not an option. In its extreme form, the fear of failure drives most decisions including success, ambition and the quest to be perfect.

The problem is though, that perfection can never be achieved. It creates a continuous pattern of disappointment when internalized expectations are not met. The feeling of shame eventually rises from early childhood hurts stemming from criticism and judgment. In these moments, we are living the stories that we have created for ourselves when we were children. At the bottom of these stories is a statement “I am not (fill in the blank) enough.”

These are the stories that keep us off the court and on the sidelines of our lives.

How to navigate failure toward living fully

Our attitude towards failure can make the difference between fully engaging in life or just going through the motions and perpetually feeling – and falling – flat.

The first question to ask is . . . are you living your life fully? If not, then I would ask; what is your attitude towards failure?

What happens to you if something hasn’t turned out as you planned? Or what if you didn’t get the results you wanted. What is the story that you tell yourself?

In a mature spirituality, there are no mistakes and no failures. There is only learning and deepening our understanding of ourselves. Reframing failure from a spiritual perspective, we replace our experience of defeat and disappointment with an active engagement and understanding of why things turned out the way that they did.

By engaging with these questions with a mindset of compassion and patience, we learn and expand. For if there is no learning, we can’t grow. Instead, we live life without meaning. We ignore life’s call to individuate and to become all that we can be. If we take away our failures, then we also take away our accomplishments, a sense of a job well done when we have experienced ourselves as resilient in the face of challenges.

The Soul’s Journey

I believe that our SOULs arrive on this plane to have an earthly human experience. To do that, it will create all sorts of experiences to learn the lessons that it needs to learn. In this mindset, there is nothing that we can be disappointed about for we know that everything has turned out the way it has because that is the way it needed to happen.

When you learn to allow and accept reality as it is today – based on where you are and what has happened – it’s not a bad thing, and there’s nothing wrong or negative to feel about it.

For sure, this is not easy stuff.

We need to wade through all the childhood pain. If we can move through the hurt, and peel back the layers of disappointment we eventually reach the truth and experience the joy of discovery and consciousness.


Questions for Journal Reflections

Find a quiet time when you can be alone with yourself and your journal. Allow space to relax. Reflect on and write about the following questions in your journal.

Part One

Think about an incident in your life when you experienced a perceived failure. It could be a “failed marriage or relationship”. It could be a “failed business initiative”. Maybe you didn’t get a promotion that you wanted. Describe the feelings associated with this setback? How challenging is it to stay with these feelings? Do you want to push them away? What do you do with these feelings? What do you say about yourself? Are you self-critical? Do you respond to this situation with a statement of shame such as “I am a (fill in the blank) Does this bring up a memory of the past? What did you let this event in your young life mean?

Part Two

Sit in meditation and feel your connection to your center and your highest self. How does your highest self see the situation? What did you learn about yourself or the situation that wouldn’t have been possible had you not had the experience? Can you find the hidden gifts?

Christina Becker
November 2017


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