What To Do When It All Goes To Hell

How To Deal With Failure or Loss


The first thing to do is to come to terms with how much this hurts. I don't care what anyone tells you, no one is immune to the pain and suffering that comes with failure or loss. No one. Sure, as you get older, gain experience, and go through the process a few times, it becomes easier to navigate, but there's still no Get Out Of Suck Free card.

If it doesn't sting, it wasn't worth having. If it was worth having, you're in a world of hurt. Let it happen.

The second thing to do is don't do anything stupid. Emotional reactions are good for your mental state, but they can be bombs, so try to let them happen in a vacuum. It's like you were told when you were a kid -- Go to your room, beat the crap out of a pillow, scream at the top of your lungs, use all the swears in one sentence if need be. That's all fine and good.

Do this as often and as long as you need to. Just keep your emotional reaction out of public, off of the Internets, and away from breakable objects and relationships.

But definitely talk to other people. You don't realize how much shit people have been through until you open up about your own. Talking about yours and hearing about others makes it easier.

Then wait. It's going to take a while to get over the burn. Again, there are no shortcuts and people are all built differently. Some issues I get over immediately and others take forever. I never really know what the timeline is, and that isn't important. At some point I can function again. The sooner I understand this, the quicker I can get into recovery. I'll still be grieving, but grief and recovery periods aren't mutually exclusive.

Recovery is the process of repair and/or moving on.

Now, conventional wisdom tells you that when a door closes a window opens. While you'd be surprised at how often this happens, it's doesn't ALWAYS happen. Sometimes a door just slams shut and the proverbial window is an exit.

You still take the window.

Step one is getting out of denial and gaining closure. Denial will happen. It's human nature. In fact, the stronger you are, the more likely you'll consciously and subconsciously go into denial. Strong people don't give up easily. I hate the term “closure,” because the process of letting something go isn't cut-and-dried with a defined end point. Closure happens in stages and, like I mentioned before, you just need to get enough closure to be able to move on.

Moving on starts with salvage, and that's about determining what's left. For this to happen you need to think in terms of containment. What did this failure or loss take out completely? What's damaged? And what's still intact? When you take the time to think about it, the destruction probably wasn't as bad as it looks. That doesn't mean it wasn't bad, but you'll probably find pieces to pick up that weren't obvious at the beginning. These are pieces you can use.

I can't tell you how to determine whether to rebuild or move on, and most of the time there's no right answer here. There's definitely no quick answer here, and I know a lot of the time life requires a quick answer. The best advice I can give you here is don't let life dictate your reactions. You're on nobody's timetable but your own.

Just watch denial. Are you rebuilding because it makes sense to rebuild? Or have you just not let go.

Look. It's not going to be as bad next time. If…

You've got to take lessons out of every single failure or loss. Usually, the primary reason we don't learn from failure is because we rush the closure process. You don't have to FORGET to get to closure, you just have to FORGIVE, and when we're talking about learning, that means forgiving yourself.

Again, this is something only you can do. Please don't go out and buy a book on learning from your mistakes. We're all different, we make decisions differently, we make mistakes differently, and we learn differently.

Oh yeah, by the way, failure and loss can happen without you doing anything to contribute to it. Blaming yourself for these kinds of events, while natural and really easy to do, can be harmful. Don't do it. It should be painfully obvious when you've done something to turn everything sideways. Be open to the possibility that it wasn't you at all.

There are lessons in those situations as well, usually indirect, and usually related to recovery itself.

Failure and loss, like a lot of the concepts I talk about, don't have a magic moment, a silver bullet, or an easy-to-follow 12-step program. These are big-league, difficult, complex notions, and the tools you need to get better at them don't come pre-packaged.

But that doesn't mean you can't get better at it.