Seven Lessons to Help You Deal with Failures

“YOU’LL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING!”, said the mother to her eldest son. Her frustration was explicable. Widowed at twenty-nine, the young mother of three had to work hard to earn little; and with needy toddlers in tow, she had no option but to count on her eldest son, Harland. While she labored for long hours in a tomato canning factory, six years old Harland was assigned to babysit and cook meals for his younger siblings. 

As he turned ten, Harland’s mother sent him to work on the neighbor’s farm. The job paid two dollars a month plus meals. The farmer asked young Harland to clear bush from the field. The boy got distracted and started loafing around, watching squirrels and birds. The farmer fired him from the job.

It was one of the numerous jobs he would lose or quit during his career. However, Harland David Sanders, who later became Colonel Sanders, would recall during his later years how that single failure left a profound impact on him. During next decade or so, Harland would switch several jobs, working as a farm worker, a fare collector, a paint worker, a blacksmith’s assistant, a coal loader, an insurance salesman, an army man, even as a lawyer.

One day, while still looking for a job, Sanders got a ride with a general manager at Standard Oil Company of Kentucky. The manager hired him as a service station operator. While he filled cars with gasoline, he started cleaning and inflating tires for no charge. He began early in the morning and kept the station open till late night. With such excellent service, his gas station became the best in the neighborhood.

Like many others, Sanders could not survive the great depression and in 1929, his gas station got closed. However, his excellent repute in the area did not let him remain out of work. A year after, Shell Oil Company gave him a new station to run in Corbin, Kentucky. While running the gas station, Sanders launched a side business: he started offering home-cooked meals to travelers who stopped by.

Selling hot meals started as a side business, yet over the years, Sanders saw more success in it. A few years later, he opened a restaurant. By and by, his restaurant became so famous that it became a source of pride for the state of Kentucky. In 1936, Governor Ruby Laffoon named Sanders to the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. From then on, he dressed like a gentleman and went by Colonel Sanders. 

In November 1939, a fire destroyed Sanders’s Café. However, this did not break his courage; he built a bigger and better restaurant with a motel. In 1955, when Highway 25 was rerouted, the new road bypassed Corbin. As a consequence, Sanders’s business died off; and he had to sell his property to pay taxes and remaining bills.  

With no money to build another restaurant, a sixty-five years old Colonel Sanders started all over again by preparing and delivering fried chicken to restaurants who chose to be his franchisees. While his wife stayed at home to fill the orders, Colonel often slept in the car to save money.

Their tireless efforts bore fruit and by July 1959, the couple had bought a property in Shelbyville, which later became the Kentucky Fried Chicken headquarters. By 1960, more than 200 restaurants were selling Kentucky Fried Chicken in the United States and Canada. By 1964, the company had grown too big for Sanders, and he sold it in two million dollars.

Today Kentucky Fried Chicken, now called KFC, has more than 22,000 restaurants in around 150 countries. Though he doesn’t own the business anymore, Colonel’s image still appears on KFC packaging, reminding us how an ordinary man can become an icon through hard work and persistence, and by not giving in to failures.

If there is one person who knew how to rise again after each failure, it would be Colonel Sanders. Many of us would have experienced such moments when failures break our courage. We are disappointed and lose any hope for future. Following seven lessons should help you confront failures and rise again after each fall.   

Lesson One: Define Your Success and Failure

Success and failure are relative terms. For instance, if you buy a nice house and a comfortable car, that may well be a success for you. However, you still don’t own a Taj Mahal and don’t drive a Bentley. So if owning a Taj Mahal and driving a Bentley is your success criteria, you would still consider yourself a failure. Define your own criteria for success and failure.

Lesson Two: Accept Your Failures

After defining your success criteria, if you find yourself unable to meet those goals and feel like a loser, accept the fact that you failed. Accepting your failure is an important step towards defining a way forward. Failures are embarrassing off course. People tend to deny their failures and look for excuses. Such stubbornness won’t take you much further. Avoid blaming others and accept your failure.

Lesson Three: Express Your Emotions Peacefully

Failures generate a variety of emotions: anxiety, anger, shame, uncertainty—all of these are uncomfortable. But don’t hold them back if you can’t; let them out. But make sure you express your emotions without harming yourself and others. For instance, you can cry alone and let your emotions out. Or talk to a trusted friend. There is no shame in doing that. 

Lesson Four: Avoid Unhealthy Highs to Numb Pain

Failures are painful. Some people try to find ways to numb their pain through unhealthy means e.g., finding solace in alcohol, indulging in impulse purchasing to feel better, blaming others to fuel your self-righteousness etc. Avoid these highs as they will just numb the pain temporarily and take you away from addressing the actual problems.

Lesson Five: Analyze Your Mistakes

Once you have accepted your failure and released your emotions, get back to the white board to analyze what went wrong and what could have been done better. There could be some instances when your failure was totally out of your control. However, it would still be worthwhile to review your errors so that you can try next time more wisely.

Lesson Six: Make a Better Future Plan

An unbiased analysis of your mistakes would give you an opportunity to improve upon your work and chalk out a better plan for the future. You may fail repeatedly, and this would disappoint you for sure, but each failed attempt takes you closer to success. The more mistakes you make, the better to get at it.

Lesson Seven: Don’t be Afraid of Failing Again

Having a better future plan would likely ensure that you don’t repeat the same mistakes and possibly make fewer blunders as such. However, it does not mean you cannot fail again. Many of the successful people out there reached the summit before failing again and again. Let me conclude this by referring to Michael Jordan’s famous quote where he said that he failed again and again and that is what made him a champion.


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