Cam Taylor

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Five Steps Through Failure


“Failure is universal. It’s part of the human experience. It’s important to learn how to fail because the only way to achieve anything is to risk failing” (David H. Sandler).


In order to get any where in life, you must learn to deal effectively with failure. Whether you are forming a new relationship, starting a new job, forming a new habit, learning a new skill, creating some art, raising your family, or growing an executive coaching practice, naming and re-framing failure is essential.

Five Steps to Take to Turn Failure into Forward Momentum*

These five steps to failure seem counter-intuitive at first. They are, however, part of the process you go through to turn failure into a growth opportunity.

Step 1: Disbelief

When you fail, your mind will try to automatically deny it or not want to believe it. You say, “I can’t believe this failure happened! Did I really fail?” If you’re not careful, you’ll throw in the towel and go try something else.

The alternative is to realize disbelief is a normal hurdle you must jump over. Accept the failure. Believe it happened and keep going.

Step 2: Fear

When you fail, you get scared. It’s natural. You say, “I really thought this would work and now look at where I ended up. Freak me out!” Fear unfortunately paralyzes us from action.

Instead, welcome fear as normative during failure. Anticipate its arrival and allow it to trigger your survival instinct that can kick in and get you through the dark night.

Step 3: Anger

Anger follows fear. It is a secondary emotion resulting from hurt, disappointment or loss.

The pathway forward is to accept anger as part of the failure process and to find a safe place or person to vent your anger to. Then once you cool down, you can return to the arena of action.

Step 4: Acceptance

At this phase you start to realize all you did was fail. The quicker you can get here the better.

The key to acceptance is to see failure as normal and messing up as temporary. Accept responsibility for any mistakes you made, learn from them, and move on.

Step 5: Despair

Once you accept your failure, it’s not unusual to slip into feelings of despair and mild depression. You not going backwards, but actually making progress.

The key is not to make major decisions when feeling down but to reflect on what you’re learning and prepare for what’s ahead.

A final thought

Failing well strengthens your inner resolve and ability to overcome adversity and setbacks. The better you get at navigating failure, the more resilient and persevering you will become.

Successful people aren’t those who have learned to avoid failure but those who fail often but rise quicker to tackle the challenges that await.

*Source: You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar by David H. Sandler

Image source: Free image courtesy of

About Cam Taylor

Life and leadership coach, transition & change specialist, husband, dad, leader, writer, life long learner.

3 Replies

  1. Ross Campbell

    Great post Cam! IBM has a motto I think every company/entrepreneur should adopt: Fail Faster

    1. Couldn’t agree more! I like the saying “fail forward” as well.

  2. STEVE

    Not only have I failed, I see now that I haven’t failed correctly. Being a failure at failing is discouraging indeed.

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