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For Every Success, I’ve Had At Least 20 Failures. 4 Tips For Dealing

Updated: Jan 15

It’s New Year’s Eve morning and I’m lying in bed with my eyes closed, in that dim semi-resting state just before I catapult out of bed and start my day. My brain is running through the achievements of the past year like a library catalog. I’m trying to gear myself up for all the things I want to tackle in 2024–except instead of feeling proud of all the hard work and successes I’ve experienced in 2023, I’m getting stuck on the failures. Because the reality is, for every success I’ve enjoyed, I’ve had to suffer at least twenty failures along the way.

Sometimes it gets me down.

In addition to a full-time job as a communications strategist in the defense sector, I’m a writer. I write mainly late at night, after I’ve put my small children to bed and made a half-assed attempt at cleaning my kitchen. I respect anyone who writes for pure enjoyment, but for those who are trying to carve out a career, there is no choice but to hone, promote, compete, and face rejection. 

For every twenty-plus articles I submit to magazines, only one gets published. For every twenty-plus query letters I send to literary agents, only one gets answered. For every twenty-plus speaking engagements I’ve been offered, only one of those people will actually follow through with the invite.

I really admire Winston Churchill for stating that success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm, but with all due respect, Winston, you’ve never dealt with the American publishing industry, have you? (Admittedly, being the Prime Minister of the UK during World War II probably wasn’t a walk in the park either.) Maybe what Churchill was trying to say is that failure, often feared and misunderstood, is an inevitable part of the journey toward success.

The reality is that failure is something we all have to deal with at some point in our lives, making it a timely topic to explore as we head into the new year. The question I’m currently struggling with is how to keep putting energy into the goals I want to reach without losing faith and burning out when I get whacked in the face with failure.

As a writer, I’ve come to realize that not only is failure a part of the broad human experience; it’s also part of the creative process. The committed artist thus has to confront this challenge on an ongoing basis if they want to continue to create. 

For illustration, as I wait to hear back from literary agents on my manuscript, I’m already starting a new book. I sketch out plots and throw them out. I sketch out character profiles, alter them, and throw out one version after another until I’ve carved out a compelling cast that jumps off the page. To create requires expending A LOT of energy. It also means being able to tolerate the destruction of your creations along the way.

The same goes for failure. You must figure out how to tolerate it or it will eat you alive. Even as I continue to struggle very much with this issue in the present, I want to share 4 tips that have worked for me so far:

1. Reasonable expectations. I have been known to set a ridiculous set of tasks to get done in a single night, achieve nine out of 10 of those tasks, and then despair that I didn’t meet all ten. This is a recipe for burn out, so go easier on yourself. I’m also likely to burn out if I get angry every time a magazine article or speaking gig I was promised doesn’t work out. So now, I expect people to flake on me and when they don’t, I’m ecstatic!

2. Let the past stay in the past. I like to visualize failure as a sack of manure that I hurl over my shoulder. It stunk in the moment, now it’s behind me. I have too much to look forward to dwell on the stuff I can’t change.

3. Wait, there’s an exception—education. The only time I’m allowed to look backwards is for the sake of learning. I try to do this in a dispassionate manner, dissecting a failure as if I were an outsider. 

4. It’s ok to take a break. In fact, if you don’t take a break you will become exhausted and inefficient and then you will burn out. And you’ll be pissed about it. Whenever I’m on the brink of hair-pulling frustration, I go to a deep meditation yoga class called “surrender yoga” in a dark room at my gym. “Surrender” is a fitting term because by attending the class I’m automatically forced to surrender whatever I was doing in the moment. It works like a charm. After going into a deep resting state, I’m almost guaranteed a rewarding night of inspired writing.

In the face of failure, remember your worth, your potential, and your dreams. Welcome the challenges, knowing that within them lie the seeds of growth and accomplishment.

As we step into the new year, let’s dare to fail bravely, learn passionately, and rise resiliently. Failure doesn’t define us, but our response to it shapes our future. Here’s to a year of turning failures into our greatest triumphs. 

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About Jessica Lauren Walton: Jessica is a communications strategist, video producer, and writer in the U.S. defense sector. She has written articles on a range of security and mental health topics and conducted interviews with military leadership, CIA officers, law enforcement, psychologists, filmmakers, and more. Jessica recently completed her memoir about her experience as an American woman struggling with mental illness while trying to get into Israeli intelligence.

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