Intentional Thinking Day 9: Try Thinking “Setback” Instead of “Failure”

Let me be transparent: failure terrifies me. It’s demoralizing, it’s embarrassing, it’s painful, and it’s completely unavoidable. I think only those of us with the thickest skin can walk out of failure unscathed, and let’s face it: we just aren’t all built like that.

We’ve all heard the popular adage: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” (Wayne Gretzky or Michael Scott).

That’s obviously true.

Yesterday, I watched a panel of black women discussing the importance of black storytellers, and Stephanie Allain (Homegrown Pictures) said something similar, “Failure is necessary. You can’t win if you don’t take the shot. And if you take the shot, you might fail.”

That makes sense.

I believe these statements to be true, and yet, my mind—my body, even—cannot reconcile with failure. It makes me mentally and physically ill. I will veg out in bed, nauseous and paralyzed, and replay every single mistake I made in my head.

And, so, call it playing with semantics or denial or avoidance or whatever, but I simply will not call an unrealized goal a failure. Instead, I’ll say, “I’ve had a setback.”

Here’s why that works for me.

When I say “setback” instead of “failure,” I skip the pity party and go straight back to the drawing board, learning from my misadventure and creating a better plan of attack.

When I say “setback” instead of “failure,” it releases me from the dreadful finality of the situation. I no longer see the project I’m working on as dead, but I see it as as ailing. And if it’s ailing, I can find a cure.

Even if the project is dead, I still say “setback” because, technically, it’s the project that failed. The writer just has to try something new. She gets to keep going.

At the end of the day, I agree with Gretzky and Allain. To win in life, you have to take shots you might miss, but when you do miss, that doesn’t have to mean you failed. Get back in the gym, work on your aim, and shoot again.

Challenge: Think about something you tried recently that didn’t go your way. Rethink your approach. What might you try differently?

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