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A few months ago, I got asked a question that I’ve never been asked before. It was a topic that I was familiar with during my financial journey, although I never really thought about how my perception of it truly affected me.
During your financial journey, there may be times that you feel discouraged and down on yourself, even to the point where you feel as though you failed.
Failure is something that we all face in so many different areas. It is not just our financial journey, but also in sports, family, relationships, and many various aspects of our day-to-day lives.
To me, my definition of failure was a paradigm shift. I thought failure was one thing initially, and now I have a completely different outlook on what failure means in my life.
My experience with failure.
Throughout my nine-year debt-payoff journey, there is one time that I genuinely feel as though I failed.
This is when I took a full year off from my budget and debt payoff journey and stopped making any progress. I simply started living life like I didn’t have my debt and that my financial goals didn’t matter.
In the beginning, I was trying every single budgeting method out there, and I found myself coming up short month after month. I wasn’t accomplishing the goals I set for myself, I wasn’t making progress, and I found myself hating my journey. I was frustrated.
Many things had to happen to get the point where I ultimately made zero effort at all; many little things happened. One of those things is experiencing perceived failures. All of those little things that didn’t work, I would automatically see as a failure.
I quickly learned that they were false perceived failures. What I was or wasn’t doing wasn’t a failure; instead, the process I was using was failing for me. It wasn’t working in my life, and I would automatically start taking the blame that I was the reason I wasn’t succeeding how I wanted to.
Perceived failures have to do with your mindset and your emotions towards your situation. Your mindset really does web its way into everything that we do, and it can either make things enjoyable or absolutely dreadful. Everybody perceives failure differently.
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A definition of failure.
Failure is a lack of success, coming up short, and even includes not reaching a goal.
Now that I have changed my mindset around failure, I don’t entirely agree with these definitions. What happens with perceived failures is that they lead to premature emotions and actions that hinder our ability to reach our goals.
For example, say you set yourself a goal to pay off $100 of debt this month. If you don’t reach that goal, you may automatically feel as though you failed. You start pointing the finger at yourself, and after a while, this can change the mindset you have towards your finances. You lose confidence, drive, and, most importantly, you may lose sight of why you even started your journey in the first place.
Just because you didn’t hit that goal, doesn’t mean you failed. This is a case where the process just didn’t work. Take that as a learning experience and start evaluating where things didn’t work for you, and start tweaking and perfecting those little steps to make it work better for you next time.
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What is a perceived failure?
Before I started The Budget Mom, I attempted to start a photography business. The business didn’t end up working out and resulted in the business failing. That said, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. If I thought that and held onto that belief, I wouldn’t be where I am today with The Budget Mom. I don’t look at my photography business going under as a failure; instead, a valuable lesson learned.
I’m the type of person that now believes that it’s important to embrace these moments when things don't go our way. I didn’t reach that goal. I embrace these moments because I’m a firm believer that to really embrace success, we have to embrace these moments of “failure.”
It’s a learning experience. We can’t push ourselves more without going through that process. There’s no single person in this world that doesn’t feel failure, or who haven’t failed at something – whatever their definition may be.
In the beginning, I would literally hold back because I had this underlying fear of failure. That said, I wouldn’t even take the first step and make an effort. Fear can hold us back, and if you want to achieve anything worthwhile, you may have to let go of the idea that failure is something to avoid.
Learn from your perceived failures.
Embrace failure because the lessons you learn from failure is like a currency you earn through the courage to take action. Failure, to me, builds the learning and stepping blocks to get us to success.
In my life, I started making leaps and bounds when I jumped out of my comfort zone and realized it was OK if I didn’t reach a goal. In my eyes, that is not a failure. It’s just life’s ups and downs. Failure is only when you give up.
When you reach a point where you think you have been a failure, think about why you feel that way. Ask yourself, what steps did you take? Could you have done something differently? Do you need to change your thinking, or tweak your process?
James Clear identified three stages of failure:
- 1: A failure of tactics
- 2: A failure of strategy
- 3: A failure of vision
Let these moments be times of problem-solving rather than perceiving yourself as a failure. All of these things can be fixed. If your tactics are wrong, then examine the steps and process. If the strategy is wrong, revise it.
In writing about Strategies for Learning from Failure in the Harvard Business Review, Amy C. Edmondson wrote that organizations should understand what went wrong and not focus on “who did it.” She also weighed in on why organizations do not give “failures” enough analysis. “Why is failure analysis often shortchanged? Because examining our failures in depth is emotionally unpleasant and can chip away at our self-esteem.”
Don’t let perceived failures chip away at your self-esteem or self-worth. Analyze what went wrong; fix the process; change your thinking, and embrace the moments.
Your path to success.
True failure only happens when you give up and stop giving your 100%. When I look back, I wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t take that year off from my financial journey. I potentially missed out on learning new things and even possibly sacrificed the confidence that I have built within myself. I lost a lot of opportunity in that year, and that’s why I consider that a fail.
The main thing I want you to take away is to watch what you tell yourself, especially around the topic of failure. You’re your own worst critic, and words can cut deep and change your mindset around something you so desperately want.
Just remember, just because you didn’t reach a goal doesn’t mean you failed. In my eyes, that’s a learning experience that allows you to do better in the future. Instead of saying, “I failed,” ask yourself, “What can I do better next time?” “What needs to be tweaked?” It turns into a problem-solving experience, rather than a perceived failure in yourself that may hinder your success in the future.