Bouncing back from failure
Thank you for joining us today. My name is Jordan Thibodeau, and I have partnered with my friend Joe Ternasky to write this class on how to bounce back from failure. Joe and I have both worked for several Fortune 500 tech companies and have built comfortable lives for ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we’ve never failed. In fact, Joe and I have both dealt with our fair share of failures. Yet, we were able to overcome those obstacles and effectively apply what we learned to our lives moving forward. Now, Joe and I want to use this course to share a few of the specific strategies for benefiting from failure that have contributed to our success.
In my first two courses, I focused on building a better network and improving your conversational skills. This course is about utilizing your failure to become more successful in life. Think of this course as a first-aid kit that not only helps you triage your failure in the short term but also helps you resolve the long-term effects of failure, such as shame, guilt, and regret.
The Flavors of Failure
Failure comes in many different forms. To keep our definition straightforward, I will define failure as a setback of any kind. This generally includes any professional, personal, or family events that push you further away from your goals.
I wrote this course as a distillation of the techniques that I used to recover from the academic failure I faced in high school. When I was a teenager, I was provided with a golden opportunity to attend a premiere private high school, Bellarmine, with a full scholarship. This would have set me on a course to network with some of the most influential people in America and secure a comfortable life for myself and my family. But life had other plans. Just a short time into my high school career, my mother passed away, and my family life was thrown into chaos. This upheaval negatively impacted my studies, and I wound up flunking out of not just Bellarmine, but another high school as well.
If I could go back and share one thing with my teenage self, this class would be it. We all have to face our own setbacks, but we don’t have to face them alone. Joe and I need you to know that although you may have suffered a failure, that failure is not the end. You have the ability to learn from this experience and achieve far greater things in your life because of it. Your family, your friends, and your community all need you to learn how to harness your failures and climb back into the game, and we are all rooting for you to succeed because we are also players in this game, and it turns out that we are playing for the same team.
About This Class
This isn’t a passive class. You will be expected to follow along with the lessons and take advantage of the techniques and tools provided within in order to honestly reflect upon your failures, mistakes, or shortcomings. If you don’t take the time to consider the lessons in this course, then you will miss out on great opportunities to improve your ability to handle failure. That being said, not every tool in this course will be a perfect fit for you. What we ask is that you experiment with every tool at least once and allow yourself to suspend your doubts for the duration of this course. You may find that the tools you don’t expect to help you will actually be the key to unlocking your unique way of dealing with failure.
This course will teach you the following skills:
• how to examine failure objectively
• how to avoid panicking in the midst of failure
• how to contextualize failure within the narrative of your life
• how to recognize what you can and cannot control about failure
• how to improve your reactions to stressful situations
• how to utilize the support of friends and family to overcome failure
• how to look at your failure with a broader perspective
• how to prevent shame from holding you back in life
• how to discover and eliminate your self-limiting beliefs
• how to detect and move past failed relationships
• how to healthily embrace all aspects of your life
One Last Note
It can be painful to think honestly about failure. Before we begin, please be aware that this course will speak about failure in a stark, matter-of-fact way that can be difficult to hear, but that doesn’t mean that Joe or I feel any less empathetic for anyone’s struggles. If you are considering physically hurting yourself or others, then I implore you to please seek help from a professional, reach out to a loved one, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Now, let’s get started!
Lesson 1. Failure from a Bird’s Perspective
“Life is a series of commas, not periods.” —Matthew McConaughey
The first tool we want to share with you is our Bird’s Eye View technique. This can be used to help you gain perspective on your current situation without losing sight of how any one setback ties into your entire life. After all, at the end of the day, life is just a series of games.
In life, there are both finite games and infinite games.
The games we play in life come in all different shapes and sizes. Having a productive day at work, throwing a party for a family member, house-sitting for a friend, and playing a soccer match are examples of finite games, whereas your career satisfaction, parenting success, peace of mind, fitness, and reputation are examples of infinite games. The primary differences between these categories are the length of time over which you build them and the decisiveness of their win or lose states. To illustrate this, imagine a finite game like a soccer match and consider that (1) your involvement in the game will end after the few hours that it takes to play the match and (2) whether you win or lose is determined by a strict set of rules that every player knows and agrees upon before the game begins. This is fundamentally different from an infinite game, like your career success, because in an infinite game, you will develop your success or failure over a long length of time—sometimes your entire life—and no one will ever tell you whether you have won or lost.
How Do We Get Better at Playing Infinite Games?
If you perceive failure as a game-ending or career-ending event, then you will prevent yourself from learning vital skills. Instead, look at failure as its own infinite game. In the midst of any given failure, a particular event may feel like your entire world is falling apart. However, if you look back to times in your life when you faced a similar failure, then you will realize that the current event doesn’t have to be so earth-shattering. In the heat of the moment, what you need is distance from the situation to let you put things into perspective.
The Bird’s Eye View Technique
To gain a healthy perspective, you can adopt a Bird’s Eye View: an objective viewpoint from outside of and “above” the situation. You can think of a Bird’s Eye View as being what you would see if you were a bird flying overhead and looking down. The following steps will help you develop a Bird’s Eye View:
Step 1. First, imagine that you are a bird looking down at the current situation. You see your human self on the ground in the middle of it all. You see the other people involved. But you are physically and emotionally removed from the situation because you are like a bird flying high in the air. What do you see yourself doing on the ground? How does your human self feel? How are other people reacting to how you are acting?
Step 2. Now imagine that you’re flying away to observe other humans in similar situations. Imagine how they are reacting. Notice how these humans are reacting emotionally to the scenario and thinking that they are alone in their feelings. How does this make you feel about your situation?
Step 3. Next, imagine that you have flown to another group of people who have experienced the same setback as the previous groups, but these people look like they have recovered from the failure and moved on. Imagine what they might have learned from this experience. What would these people tell the other two groups of people?
Step 4. Finally, you are back in your own body again. Think about the three situations you observed. How is your situation any different from the first two? If the final group of people was able to resolve the situation, move on, and prosper, then why can’t you do the same?
Joe and I created a bouncing back journal that you can use to reflect on your situation. Through this reflection, you will build a corpus of data that may be reviewed to help you overcome the mental obstacles preventing you from bouncing back from your failure.
1. Follow the link above to the bouncing back journal and save a copy of it for your personal use.
2. Open your bouncing back journal to answer the questions from the Bird’s Eye View Technique.
In our next lesson, we will discuss how to avoid panicking when you fail.
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