I am a Failure! What Now?


“0h Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot.” –Plato’s Crito

For my job, I am required to pass an evaluation.  I recently took one of these evaluations, and although I passed, I did not leave the lasting good impression that I had hoped to leave with my new boss.  As the new guy, this was my chance to break through, to develop a trust from my employer that would be one I could build upon.  That did not happen.  Instead, as one thing led to another I ended up performing badly enough during one portion that I now am “in a hole” that I must dig out of.  It left my evaluator, who just happens to be my boss, with a lack of confidence in my ability.  For all intents and purposes, I failed.

If at first you don't succeed...(photo by Ben Earwicker)

If at first you don’t succeed…(photo by Ben Earwicker)

So what can I, as a Heroic Stoic make of this?  Here are some thoughts.

1. Control

“What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Much of what happened on this particular evaluation was out my control:  the situation I was put in, my own fatigue, my lack of situational awareness of how difficult the particular task was, my inexperience on the job, my own talent at performing the job, not to mention the boss’s opinion on the seriousness of the errors I committed.  These are not excuses, this is a simple acknowledgment that there are certain things that I cannot control, when I face a failure.  These are things that test me, that make me better.  They improve my skills.  Clearly, if I have failed then I have reached some kind of limit…at least I know where it is now, and what to do next.

2. Picking Myself Up

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”–Dale Carnegie

(Photo by Cheryl Empey)

(Photo by Cheryl Empey)

This failure has afforded me the opportunity to reevaluate my own attitude and what I can do better in the future.  For example, in this case I have committed to be better at the tasks I did not do well.  I will commit to never make those errors again.  They may be my weaknesses, so I am set on bringing them up to par.  Often, failures can close doors and force you to go in a different direction…it may lead to a change in focus in your life.  A failure may make you realize that you are not cut out for a particular task, and a new door will open.  It this is you, be on the lookout for it.

3. Worry (That is, Worrying About Fate)

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” –Marcus Aurelius

I could worry about how this will affect my future.  How will this affect my work environment?  Will the boss be looking for my mistakes now?  Will it affect any raises I get?  What happens if I make another mistake?  Could I lose my job?  All these things are possible, but they will largely be controlled by fate.  There is no reason to worry about these things.  What to be concerned about are the things I can control.  I need to do the best job I possibly can.  Will I make mistakes? Sure.  Will I have to prove myself? Most definitely.  All I can do is the best I can do…it is the only way to be virtuous.

4. Pride

“I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.”   George Burns

It is better to have tried at something I am committed to, than to not have tried at all.  Along the way, there will be failures for things that are worth it.  Failures don’t mean the end, and failures while doing something you love are worth it.  It is my pride in my craft that will motivate me to be better…to be excellent!

Failing at something he loves?

Failing at something he loves?

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” –Michael Jordan

You are completely in control of your life…and no one else’s!


In my frantic preparations to produce content this morning I was frenetically reading through some of my favorite writings of philosophy and inspiration.  Finally, I came upon Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People.

I just want you all to know that I LOVE this book.  In dealing with people, I have found no better guide.  I have read it twice fully and have reviewed the principles so many times, I could not even begin to guess the number.  Chapter 1, “Don’t Kick Over the Beehive,” tells us how ineffective criticism and condemnation is.  Essentially, we don’t respond well to it.  So, that got me thinking.

Why is criticism so ineffective?  I will say that my answer is that I don’t respond to it, because I am unwilling to change simply because someone else wants me to.   For me to change the way I think about things, it must be my idea.  “Nobody’s gonna tell me what to do!”  Nobody’s gonna tell me what I should do!  That decision is up to me.  If it’s not my idea, I don’t respond very well.

Don’t tell me what to do! Don’t tell ME I’m wrong!

So, try and ask yourself this question (even if someone else may have brought it to your attention):  If this is the way I should live, why am I not living this way?

For example, I’ve realized that I don’t spend enough quality time with my kids.  I’ve examined why this is so:  I work, I am tired, they are boring, I don’t like what they like, they are busy, etc.  In the end, however, my values tell me that I should spend time with my kids as a father, teaching them what I know, playing with them more, etc.  Somebody can tell me, “You work too much, and your kids need you,” but I am the only one who can change the situation.  So in order to change this I must commit:  from now on, I will spend more time with my kids.  Even better, I can be more specific:

  • I will spend 45 minutes every day learning Spanish with my kids (which, in fact I now do).
  • When my children are speaking to me, I will stop what I am doing and listen, or I will politely tell them, “come back to me in XX minutes when I finish this, OK?” (this one is definitely a challenge for me).

My point today, is not that we should avoid criticizing others (which we probably should), or that we should increase the time we spend teaching our children (which we definitely should).   My point is this (repeat it to yourself if you wish):

  1. If I know I should be living my life a certain way, only I can make that choice to do so.
  2. If this is what I should do, then I must do it.