02/22/2016 05:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Difference Between Failure and Being Unsuccessful


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Let's talk about failure.

Failure isn't something we discuss openly, yet it's something we all experience. It's not fun to talk about or go through, and this post may already be bringing to mind some memories that sting. But let's just get it out there.

There is a difference between failure and being unsuccessful.

We all fail.

Every single one of us. And if you really believe you've never failed, then I am sorry for you, because you probably live a really boring life. Whether you failed to take out the trash this morning or you tried to get a new position with an exciting company and they offered it to someone else, we all fail. It's a part of life.

We have all been there.

Failure does not define us.

After I lost my job, I felt like it was written all over me. "Unemployed. Fired for incompetency." In fact, I was meeting a former coworker for lunch and she offered to invite some of my friends from my previous company and I declined because I felt self-conscious about my unsuccessful career change. Everyone at my old job was so supportive of my radical career change, that I was embarrassed that I didn't succeed.

It turns out that self-consciousness is unnecessary. Here are two things I've learned lately:

  1. Many or most people in your life are going to be supportive through it all. Just as my friends, family, and coworkers were rooting for me at the new job, they are rooting for me now as I look for work. I can't think of a single negative thing anyone has said to me about losing my job. And this has been the case with pretty much all of my failures. The time I backed into a tree? FAIL! Sure I got a lot of jokes about that, but friends sympathized with the trials I went through getting my car fixed and sorting out the insurance.
  2. People really can't tell! Even though I felt like I had a huge sign over my head that said "incompetent" people seemed to just see same old crazy cat lady Heather. Although I shared my news on my blog, I didn't publicly share it with many people right away and it took awhile to trickle around. During that period, people really just treated me like me, even though I felt very different inside.

But it sort of does define us.

Actually failure does define us in a way. A positive way. Every failed experience is a lesson to be learned. It helps us grow! It can make us stronger, more aware, resilient, adaptable. (However, it has yet to make me a better driver.) It teaches us to experience and cope with feelings and emotions such as defeat, regret, and remorse. Had I not felt the regret of all the money I blew on my military deployment, I may not have become so passionate about getting my finances in order later in life!

One of my favorite sayings is, "Fall seven times, stand up eight." It's pretty much the first thing I told myself when I lost my job. It keeps me positive and focused, and reminds me that life comes with failure, but the true failure would be staying down. Get up again.

I would not be the person that I am today had I not made the mistakes I have made. And I like who I am today.

Being fired stung. Being fired for "incompetency" and seeing it in black and white stung even more. My career change was so public in my professional and social circles. So many people were supportive, even writing letters of recommendation! My background check was so thorough that people in my life had to put a lot of time into it for me. I felt like I had failed. I failed these people who went out on a limb for me.

I was embarrassed. When people first learned that I was giving up a secure, well-paying job to start a new job in a totally different field with less pay and a crazy work schedule, they thought I was a little crazy and may have been a bit skeptical. When they understood that I was pursuing a dream, they were incredibly supportive. I took a risk and gave up the good thing I had going for me. When it didn't work out I felt foolish.

But I didn't fail.

I've stopped referring to my career change as a failure. I was unsuccessful at my career change.

As one friend put it, "I planned, I sacrificed, and I leapt." I didn't go into it blindly and unprepared; I was at a place in my life where I was able to take the risk.

What would have been a failure? If I passed the opportunity up and went my whole life wondering. If I passed it up out of fear. If I stopped chasing my dreams and pursuing things that make me happy.

I did not fail. I was unsuccessful.

When you feel like you've failed, change your thought process. To not try is to fail. Trying something takes courage. Whether or not you succeed, you've likely learned something new and grown as a person. That is not failure.

We all fail. It does not define us, but it does help us learn and grow and develop into the people we are today. We can change our thought process and look at what we have learned and the doors that have opened, and see that in the grand scheme of things, we really not have failed. Be brave. Go after your dreams.


Image from Pixabay