5 Ways to Deal with Failure

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

When I first started this job, I was repeatedly surprised at how often it seems to bring a sense of failure. Whether or not I’m actually “failing,” it’s amazing how often I feel like I am.

I don’t sell every project I take on. I get rejection letters from editors all the time. I can’t always meet everyone’s needs as quickly as I want to. I’ve taken on clients that weren’t a good fit and then lost those clients. I’ve made decisions I later realized were the wrong ones.

There are also daily successes, everything from selling a project, to helping a client solve a manuscript problem, to coming away from a contract negotiation feeling like everybody won. But human nature being what it is, I sometimes feel like the failures overshadow the successes.

loserAwhile back I had a period where I was feeling particularly worn down, so I went searching the Internet for help. Turns out, everyone and their brother has blogged about failure. And every successful person in history has a quote about it, too.

Hmm, wonder what that means? Clearly, everyone feels like they’re failing sometimes. But I needed a way to deal with it. How could all these articles and blog posts help me?

I read article after article and found that most of the wisdom on dealing with failure advises we do things that I was already doing instinctively. Things like:

1. Reframe the failure and look at it as simply part of the process.

2. Accept that any endeavor worth trying will involve some risk and experimentation, and hence, failure.

3. Use every failure as an opportunity to reassess what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Figure out how to do it better next time.

4. Realize that if you’re not failing sometimes, you may not be taking enough risks or pushing yourself hard enough.

5. Just keep getting back up, knowing you’re smarter now than you were before the failure.

Here are three quotes that have been helpful to me:


Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. ~Henry Ford


I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. ~Thomas Edison


Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill


They sound like platitudes until you’re in that place where you feel like an epic Loser … and suddenly they make sense.

Get back up. That’s really all you can do. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

What about you? How have you failed? What kind of wisdom has helped you deal with it?

66 Responses

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  1. Sue Harrison says:

    Thank you for the great perspective, Rachelle. One of the tough things about being a writer – and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for an agent – is that rejection is so public. If you’re out there trying to build or hang onto an audience of readers and your current project is a no-go, you have to share the hurt. At first that’s such an ego-breaker, but I’ve found in situations of rejection that sometimes the best cure of all is the support from family, friends, and fans.

    I’ve also found that a “sad day” helps, especially if it’s limited to one day, or even better one hour! And then…on to the next project, a little sadder, a little wiser, and soon enthused all over again!

  2. Awesome post, Rachelle. And advice worth remembering – Get back up.

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you for sharing this today. I love the picture, I feel like that a lot in the writing world! I try to remember that ‘I feel like that.’ God does not feel that way about me, neither does my family and friends.

    I love #4. I think its very true, if you don’t experience some failure, you might not be living up to your greatest potential. It’s difficult to get back up again, but God asks for nothing less from us. Because he asks that, he also promises to never leave us.

  4. Dawn Allen says:

    Ultimately, what does it for me is the realization that to quit is final, like death. When I quit trying, I’m giving up on me but also on all the people who believe in me. I owe it to them and myself to pull myself up one more time. And I tell myself it’s just one more time. 🙂

    • Elissa says:

      Yes! Quitting = failure. Otherwise it’s just a set-back. However, reassessing and modifying one’s goals is not the same as quitting. We can’t all be Olympic gold medalists (or best-selling authors), but that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. We fail only when we don’t push ourselves to do the best we possibly can.

  5. I draw on Jeremiah 29:11 and the encouragement that the Lord knows His plans for me. Failure could be everyday in my life. Its a challenge to get my 5-10K in every week and I constantly don’t due to my day job, kiddos under 3 yrs, and housework (can I hire a maid?). So I really lean on the Lord’s knowledge of where He wants me to go. If this is His calling, His purpose and His plan for my life, it will happen in His timing. Meanwhile, I work as hard as I can, do my best, and refuse to label myself with failure as long as I know I’m putting forth my best. Wow. Run-on sentence. 😛

  6. I often use the phrase “I’m too stupid to live!” which I stole years ago from Cheers. It was a TV show, little ones. Anyway, I carefully try to only look stupid, which, sadly on some days, comes waaay to easy. Making a mistake, learning from it and moving along is part of life. No one is perfect, not even one.
    But,being a twit and being a failure are two different things.
    Even when our eldest was at her very worst, most self destructive, and shredding our family to pieces, my husband and I knew we’d raised her properly and the dive bomb that was her life was entirely of her own choosing. To be the parent of a ‘mock us to our faces’ prodigal was enough to cause us to crack apart. We made a conscious effort to not lay blame, simply because we knew her behaviour was her doing, and it could cost us our marriage and the mental health of our 3 boys if we fought over blame.
    Isaiah 40 held me together, my husband and I hung on as tight as we could and our faith that had seen us through all kinds of stuff before, went down deep into the fire and even though the flames caused intense pain, we are still here.
    ‘In sickness and in health’ is not just about he and I, it is about the whole family.
    As Steven Curtis Chapman once said, about in-fighting in his extended family, “I will not let the enemy take my family”.
    I have a sword, otherwise known as a mother’s heart and I will use it. I will guard my children with everything I have in me.
    I look at Franklin Graham and the well documented trouble he was to his family, but look at that boy now.

  7. I like the advice to reframe the failure. Every time we “fail,” it’s an opportunity to learn something from it. I’ve had a few rejections from agents and editors, and instead of focusing on the fact I wasn’t good enough, I tried to focus on how to be better (of course, this was after about 48 hours and a good dose of ice cream as consolation).

    I also have been challenged this year to STOP thinking of myself in terms of what I do or don’t do, what I achieve or don’t achieve. Instead, I want to see myself as God’s child. THAT’s where I should draw my identity from. Nowhere else.

    • Well said!! If we frame ourselves into someone else’s picture, we’ll never fit. But if we remember to see ourself as God’s child, we’re going to be just fine.
      And isn’t it amazing how time and dairy make everything better???

      SUBTLE HINT ALERT>>>> ALthough, a chorizo fry bread taco would help me with all the pressures of querying.

    • I like to think of it as drawing our identity from our hope instead of our accomplishments. We press on towards the goal, not that we’ve attained it, but the hope of glory pushes us forward and in doing so, we find who we are–God’s children.

    • Ann Averill says:

      It’s not about us. It’s about Him. That’s the hardest thing for me to keep in the forefront, especially when things in my writing life or family life aren’t turning out the way I predict. It’s all about trusting my identity in Him. God is so big and so good and yet–mysterious.

      A practical plan keeps the focus off me and on the mission.A trusting heart keeps me from being discouraged.

  8. Jeanne T says:

    I’ve failed many times. Finding my first teaching job took two years instead of two months. At times, I’d look in the want ads, but nothing else excited me like the possibility of working with children.

    When we dealt with infertility, I sometimes felt like I was a failure, because we weren’t having children. I have many days when I fall short in my eyes in my interactions with my children. And yes, definitely, in writing, I have days where I fail–either in completing as much as I think I should or in writing as well as I want to.

    I’ve learnd that the way I view failure has a lot to do with what I take away from the situation. I’ve discovered that anything worth doing will entail the risk of failure. The question is, what will I do after I’ve failed? Get back up, keep moving forward and figuring out how to do it better next time. Oh, and definitely asking God to give me His perspective in and beyond the failure. I beat myself up a lot less when I do that.

    Loved your thoughts and quotes today. Thanks for sharing a piece of your heart with us, Rachelle.

  9. As one who is intimately acquainted with failure on many levels, (economically, divorce) I have learned to just keep going. I am comforted by some biblical examples of failures, Moses who stammered, Gideon (my long lost twin) who was fearful and disconnected and Peter who often spoke before he thought. These guys remind me that God hath chosen the weak…(the failures) of the world to confound the wise.

  10. So true. After getting over the initial pain of failure, I am actually learning to remember each failure on purpose, because they make really good illustrations later! I think we all go through the same stuff, but only a few of us are willing to talk about it. So, I try to be really transparent, and whenever I’m speaking or teaching, I use my failure illustrations a lot. They make great fodder for sermons and teaching lessons, and the stories really seem to reach my audience and lift them up. Hey, whatever it takes, right?

  11. Tiana Smith says:

    I love number 4. Because that makes it sound like you HAVE to fail otherwise you’re doing something wrong.

  12. Comparing ourselves to others only seems to highlight our failures. However, that’s easier said than done. Thanks for speaking to my heart today, Rachelle.

    • There will always be someone better than us. That’s so frustrating, but I think if we can *try* to focus on doing what God has for US to do, we’ll be okay. We don’t have to be the best. We just have to obey the Lord. I totally struggle with this too!

      • Ann Averill says:

        Yes, when I’m in it for me, I’m trying to prove something. When I fail it reflects back on ME. I am a failure.

        When I’m in it for God, there’s great freedom to just do my best. If it really is a project God wants ME to accomplish, then whatever happens reflects on Him and he will make a way even if it doesn’t turn out the way I predict.

  13. Rick Barry says:

    In God’s eyes, success depends a whole lot more on how we live before Him and our neighbors than on how well we manage a career. The person who maintains integrity before Him is a success.

    Now, if you really wanted to feel like a failure, you could switch careers and try meteorology. I can’t count the times the weatherman’s “partly cloudy” has rained on my outdoor plans! (P.S. I believe they also had weathermen in the Old Testament, but in those days they called them “false prophets.” 😉

  14. David Spaugh says:

    Peter failed when he denied the Lord. Look what Peter accomplished afterwards. By God’s grace failures turn to triumphs. We see it over and over again in Scripture. Romans 8:28. 🙂

  15. This post comes at a good time for me, because I’ve been struggling in graduate school and feeling like a failure as a result. I keep seeing most of my classmates succeed (and I have to listen to them talk about their achievements). And that just makes me feel like I’m an even bigger failure.
    But your post did make me realize that there are some things that I’m doing wrong, and I need to work the problem. That’s the only way I’m ever going to solve it.

  16. Samar Saleh says:

    Great post indeed ,, i know there are always a way to overcome failure and that is persistence, true success can be found in not giving up and reaching the goal, I know i wouldnt have reached the place i am in right now if i didnt insist to follow my dreams.

  17. Gene Bodzin says:

    People are more likely to see themselves as failures if they think that results determine success, and not process. It took me years to realize that life was richer when I was enjoying the ride, even all the unpredictable ups and downs.

  18. So true! I’m going to take the list of five, print it, and stick it on my wall. I challenge myself a lot and fail a lot, but those will keep my pity-party moments to a minimum 😛

  19. Jillian Kent says:

    How have I failed? Let me count the ways, or not. 🙂 I continually battle against procrastination and have failed multiple times in getting things done that I need to do. Oddly, enough it’s not so muchin the area of writing my stories as it is with completing the minutes at work prior to the next meeting. Keeping a tidy desk. Trying to become a morning person, yuk, total failure. And even though I didn’t get published until 2011, I don’t feel like a failure there. It took me 21 years but instead of looking at it as failure I see it as awesome perseverance. How’s that for reframing? 🙂

  20. My failures come in sizes. There are the small; cooking, diets, home hair coloring, and then there are the large; professional goals, parenting, and relationships. I’m human. I’m flawed. I’m going to fail, everyone does, but I learn from the missteps and move on. The key is not to wallow; wallowing is ugly and unproductive. Figure out what went wrong and do it better – or in the case of the hair color – NEVER do it again.

  21. Failure is the opposite of success, right? So when I feel like a failure I have to stop and ask myself what success “looks like.” A few years back I wrote this definition out in regards to my writing. I have to re-read it often to remind myself of what I really believe. Because I’m really DENSE sometimes: “Success in light of eternity has nothing to do with books sold. Success in light of eternity means obedience to the Audience of One. In a hundred million years it will not matter if I was published, if my name appeared on any best seller lists, if I received any writing awards. In a hundred million years, what will matter is my obedience to my Lord. If He says “well done,” then whatever happened here below was good, and I achieved success in the truest sense of that word.”

    • Ann Averill says:

      Thank you, thank you. Pleasing my audience of one. The one who loves me!

      Not the New York Times. I don’t think they do.

  22. Those are some of my fave quotes. I have quotes everywhere for encouragement. But I also remind myself no matter how much I try it doesn’t matter until God says it’s time. And that’s with every aspect in my life. I learned to be patient and trust nevertheless. Nobody likes rejection or failure but it just proves that you are trying and that is all that matters really.

    Two of my fave quotes that keep me going (the ones you posted have been on my list too:)are:

    “Rejections are often gifts of direction.”
    — Paul Young

    “Rejections are often gifts of direction.”
    — Paul Young

  23. Recently I watched “The Men Who Built America” and I realized, again, the amazing fortitude and determination those men had to push past their sometimes thousands of failed attempts before they succeeded. I’m also reminded of what my husband told me the other day: “Gabe, being rejected gives you the opportunity to show the world how to deal with rejection through the grace God gives you.” Not exactly fun, but important.

  24. Navdeep Kaur says:

    Is it strange that I can’t help smiling when I get a rejection letter? I jump around the living room and show the letter to my whole family. It makes me feel like a real writer for some reason.

  25. Failure is such a crippling word. I have felt it many times in my life. But as my mother always told me about worthwhile things I found hard to do when I was growing up, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? They can’t kill you and eat you if you do it!”

    • Navdeep Kaur says:

      Parents are so integral in designing how their children deal with failure and success. You’re lucky that your mother said that to you, it makes failing a lot easier and redefines success so that it is truly meaningful and not just a competition to be on the top of everything.

  26. I’ve heard over and over again that if you’ve had a book published and it didn’t sell well no publisher will ever consider your books again. I think it’s better to aim high and possibly miss than not to try at all. And getting rejections proves we’re really writers.

  27. Thank you, Rachelle. I needed this right now. Thank you and blessings.

  28. Failure is something at which I excel. My response is to:

    C- Consider the cause
    H- Have humility
    A- Aim again
    M- Make modifications
    P- Push for proficiency
    S- Stay supple

    I wrote that acrostic when I coached football. It’s funny how often I use it on myself.

  29. Dale Rogers says:

    I feel like a failure every time I receive a rejection letter, but I try to focus on the progress and contacts I’ve made, and I continue with the knowledge and understanding I’ve obtained.

  30. Roxanne Sherwood Gray says:

    As I began reading your post, I thought of how many more rejections you must receive in any given period of time than any one of your authors do. Wow. You’ve got to have tough skin too.

    I was an athlete (in a former life–the one before seven pregnancies) and failure was only a temporary setback unless I gave up. If it was my final race, I’d quit as a failure. As long as I kept competing, I had the opportunity to win next time. Guess that’s the same with publishing.

    Thanks for this post, Rachelle!

  31. Natalie K says:

    Boy did I need this today. Thanks for yet another inspirational post!

  32. When my kids struggle to master something and “fail” at it the first few times, I always tell them, “Before you can be great at something, you have to be really bad at it first.”

    When I fail, I try to tell myself the same thing. Of course, I hope I’m moving on the scale away from the “really bad” side to the “master” side.

  33. Mandi Lynn says:

    My manuscript has gotten rejected so many times, but someday I’ll have to thank those agents because it’s made me go back and re-write, re-write, re-write. Now I’m on my 8th draft since I started writing my novel in 8th grade (11th grade now) and I can’t wait to finish this re-write to submit to agents again 🙂

  34. Erich Penhoff says:

    I have a very stubborn streak in me. I never allow to think failure! Failure sounds terminal and depressing, I consider every deenouncement or mistake just a setback..to be advanced into success at the time of my choosing. Never dwell on setbacks, it is like having a flat tire, change it and carry on down the road!

  35. Sean Van Zant says:

    I’ve failed a lot. I’ve learned a lot about failure. I have gotten most of my lessons in failure from a book called: Failing Forward, by John Maxwell. Most people think that Maxwell writes only leadership books, but he writes a lot of other books also. He has 73 books that he has written so far.

    Hope this helps!

    God Bless,
    Sean <

  36. Ann Averill says:

    I love this blog! It makes me feel that I’m not alone at my desk. It keeps me in the saddle. Thanks Rachelle. Thanks everybody!

  37. Thank you for your wisdom and honesty, Ms. Gardner! I’m trying to remember that I write because I enjoy it, and because I’ve found that it helps me express who I am to the world, rather than allowing the world to tell me who I am! It would be nice to be successful as defined by the usual limits, but to make that the point of it all, might not fit my own definition of success, which, I’m trying to remind myself, is allowing this writing pursuit to be a blessing in my life, and to humbly take the self-publishing route if necessary for my first manuscript. Then, approach the traditional publishing world with my next manuscript. It all certainly requires patience and perseverence, right, Mary Keeley? (smile)

  38. sherrie says:

    I recently shared pages from my ms at a writer’s conference to about 75 people all together. All the responses were positive.
    One woman who represents a publishing company gave her e-mail address to those who she couldn’t get to. She was reading silently each writer’s first 2 pages.
    I felt so good after the conference and was ready to get back to revising and editing. But, first I sent my first two pages to this woman along with a letter and a synopsis. When she wrote back, she had nothing positive to say. I suddenly was very depressed and stopped in my tracks. I decided to look up this publishing company and discovered that they were brand new and extremely small. I also started thinking about the fact that she didn’t have us read our pages out loud and do a critique that we could all learn from like everyone else does. I realized that she was new at her job and didn’t feel comfortable having us hear her critiques.
    Of course, I didn’t just ignore her comments. I shared them with a couple people from my critique group and I decided that she was right about my first two sentences. I saw that I had repeated a phrase which is never good UNLESS I was doing it for effect, which I wasn’t.
    The rest of her comments I evaluated. She didn’t think it was effective to write 3rd person, limited in present tense. I googled it and discovered that it should only be done for a very good reason, which in my case it was; I thought long and hard about the POV and the tense.
    In the end, I realized that even though she wasn’t an “expert,” she did have something to offer. Plus, getting more feedback is always good.
    As I work on the 2nd half of the revisions, I keep in mind her comments as well as those of the other readers. I could never just accept what any reader says at face value. I always have to think about it and give myself time to accept their suggestions as my own.
    This first novel is taking a while, but I believe what I am learning will help me with all my future writing endeavors.
    As I get more confident about my writing, I find it gets easier to hear readers’ comments & critiques. Now, I think the really hard part will be hearing people’s critisms once the book is already in print. I guess I’ll deal with that bridge when I come to it.

  39. Jenny says:

    I try to remember, as I approach landmark moments, to look beyond that infamous day.

    As it is approaching, don’t allow yourself to focus on that particular day or result so intently that you get overly invested in it. You want to be invested enough to learn from pain, but not be crippled by it.

    Practically speaking, what will your next move be if you succeed? AND if you fail? What’s coming up the week after?

    Getting a handle on it in your mind beforehand can help keep it in perspective at the moment of truth.

    Thanks, everyone, for your honesty here.

  40. Peter DeHaan says:

    One sure way to avoid failure is to never take risks.

  41. Reba says:

    Funny how we think of successful people as people who have never failed. Thanks for the reminder that ‘everyone’ at some point and time has filed at something. It is the getting back up that counts. I think I’ll type #3 from Winston Churchill in big bold letters and put above my desk.
    Oh, by the way; I enjoyed listening to you and Thomas Umstattd Jr. the other night on the webinar. Thank you both. It was a Major Help. :0)