Handling Failure

Failing is painful. Because of the perceived pain we fear to fail. Our actions are based on the desire to feel good and to avoid pain at the same time. So by default we always try to avoid pain. The problem is very few worthwhile things come to us without some pain. To get a decent job you have to sacrifice 20 years of your life in school. Child bearing is painful. Investing is very risky. Nothing great is ever achieved without overcoming failure.

To be able to meet our ambitious money goals we need to learn how to handle failure. At this stage I am hoping you have written down your money goals and you have shared them with someone you can trust (preferably by email). As you move towards your goals you are going to meet a lot of resistance and discouragement. You need to develop a mindset of overcoming failure to achieve any worthwhile endeavor. 

The ancient philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca understood this principle. There are three facets to overcoming any situation in life:

  1. Objective judgement – This thing called failure, does it really exist? Or is it simply in our minds? If I never give up, can I ever fail? What opportunities does this so called failure present? Are there any lesson to be learnt from this circumstance. Usually we distort things by the way we perceive them. You fail to get a promotion and you start imagining that the whole world hates you. Try to be as objective as possible towards any situation which life throws at you. You will begin to realize that all the perceived failure presents amazing opportunities.
  2. Unselfish action – Once we have objective understanding of failure we must then transition into relentless action. No point whining about a failed business opportunity. Pick yourself up and start allover again. Many people are discouraged when they fail at their first business attempt. But think about it. You studied for 20 years to get a job which pays you a few shillings a month. Now you want to start a business with no business experience whatsoever. One year down the road things are tight and you want to give up. Maybe you should hang in there for the next 20 years!
  3. Willing acceptance – Finally we must be willing to accept the things we can’t change. We can’t do much about things beyond our control like terminal illnesses, death, natural calamities, etc. We should be able to endure suffering with a smile. Even in suffering our conduct can serve as an example to other people on how to endure pain.

These principles have been used by people from all walks of life to navigate sticky problems. Epictetus was a slave and later an exile. Seneca was a rich aristocrat who was then exiled. Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher king. You too can learn how to handle failure like a pro.

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