Many people find it hard to overcome failure. Their confidence goes down and they lose motivation to go on.

Professional or business failure can also make you lose faith in your ability to perform optimally at work or in your business. Poor performance can in turn lead to more failure or loss.

What can you do to overcome failure, especially if you’ve never failed before? How can you turn around and get back on track after all your efforts go down the drain? Where do you start? How do you handle the public shame and possible humiliation that comes with failure?

Do you:

  • blame yourself or others?
  • throw in the towel and give up?
  • throw all your plans into the bin and start over again?
  • set smaller goals so that you’re sure of hitting them?
  • re-strategize, create a new plan, and move on as if the failure never happened?

What do you do?

My recent epic failure

I’ve just experienced a failure that would have brought me down before.

I had created a workshop and my team and I marketed it widely online and offline. We were sure of having a huge breakthrough with the workshop.

As we got closer to the registration deadline with no sign ups, we increased our efforts and connected 1-1 with almost 2,000 people whom we knew would benefit from the workshop.

I sat up past midnight on the registration deadline day, waiting for money to come into the MPESA line. We had received many verbal commitments so I knew that in our peculiar Kenyan style, there would be last-minute registrations.

Then the phone chimed at 11:58pm…one sale…and nothing else…

A few years ago, this kind of result would have driven me off track for at least a week. I would have taken the failure personally and hidden away from the world.

I would also have blamed myself, the team, the people who promised to sign up, the weather, economy, politics, God…everyone and everything I could think of.

I’d have ranted to my family and friends and gone totally off-tangent. Thankfully, I’m past that and it’s now getting easier to handle failure using the process outlined below.

A 5 Step Process to Overcome Failure

Step 1: De-Stress

Start by allowing yourself time to grieve. Don’t try to make sense of the failure at this time or try to find ways to overcome it.

This step is critical because it forms the foundation for the remaining steps.

I normally give myself a time limit to wallow over business and professional failures. In this case, I gave myself a day and spent all of Saturday totally emotional about the loss. By Saturday evening, I was ready to move to Step 2.

I adapted this tactic from Dan Shula, who was the most celebrated coach in the American NFL. Dan had a 24-hour rule for celebrating success or failure. He allowed his team only 24 hours to celebrate a win or brood over a loss. After 24 hours, they’d get back to work as usual.

This rule is working well for losses in my case. However, I’m yet to implement it effectively with wins…celebrations tend to go on for a while.

Step 2: Acceptance

Accept that you have failed. It doesn’t matter how it happened, what happened, or who was responsible. Just accept that it has happened and take responsibility for your part in this event.

Also accept that failure is part of life. The road to success is paved with failure. If you have big goals and dreams, then you’re going to get up close and personal with failure along the way.

Finally, accept that it’s your responsibility to get yourself out of this mess, if the failure created a mess. Even when you’re part of a team, you have the responsibility for your role in the team.

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan

Step 3: Evaluation

Take a step back and look at the situation objectively. Analyze it carefully without negative feelings or emotions. Ask yourself:

  • What did I do to bring about this failure?
  • Is there something I could have done, but didn’t do?
  • Is there something I could have done differently?
  • Were there important steps that I missed out?
  • Was the failure within or outside my control? (e.g. weather, politics, a sudden economic downturn – no excuses though)
  • Did I prepare adequately?
  • How many times have I had this kind of failure in the past and what did I learn then?

Write the analysis in your journal so that you have something to come back to in the future. Having a journal has helped me avoid repeating some mistakes.

If you were working as a team, it’s important that you do the evaluation together – without apportioning blame. If the situation is volatile within the team, invite an objective person to guide the evaluation.

“If you’re going to live a life worth living, you are going to see setbacks. So make it a must to deal with setbacks.” Dr. Cathy Collautt on Marie Foleo TV.

Step 4: Map The Way Forward

Your evaluation will show whether this is a failure that can be sorted out or not. Let go of the goal and move on if the failure cannot be sorted out.

Map a new way forward with new and realistic SMART goals if this is something that can be fixed. Your plan doesn’t have to be perfect, but it will give you somewhere to start from.

If you were working as a team, have all members of the team contribute to the way forward, even if they won’t be involved in implementing the new plan. You’ll be amazed at the insights people give when they aren’t involved in implementation.

Step 5: Take Action

A plan is only as good as the actions taken to implement it. Once you have a solid plan, start taking action immediately.

Begin with small actions and update your plan as you get new results and information. Include regular checks in your action plan.

Break your plan into monthly and weekly sub-goals. Then break the weekly goals into daily to-do’s. Evaluate your weekly and monthly results before planning for the next week or month.

This simple action plan will keep you focused and on top of your goal at all times. It will also help you identify and rectify mistakes in time so that you reduce chances of failing.

And if you do fail again, go back to Step 1 and complete this process once again. With time, you’ll notice that your successes are increasing while failures reduce.

[Tweet “In order to succeed, your desire for success must be greater than your fear of failure.’ Bill Cosby”]


Our education system has turned failure into a bad word. We’ve learnt to celebrate success and try to hide failure as much as we can.

However, failure is an part of growth and you will encounter it more often than you expect. In order to succeed in business or life, you need to embrace failure, and learn from it.

This 5-step process to overcome failure has helped me bounce back fast and move on. It’s also helped me become a better planner and achieve some goals way ahead of their time.

Over to you now…

How have you overcome failure in the past? Please share what happened and how you were able to get out of it in the Comments section below.

(Image credit Unsplash)

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