Failure or Simply A Detour?

Failures have taught me so much that I want to share to you how now I can be grateful for every setback I face, instead of feeling down for weeks. It all started when…

Case 1

I was once thought myself as a failure. Back in college days when I aspired to lead some organisations, I ended up defeated by the other candidates because I simply less capable, due to my personal circumstances. It turned me down so much that I went to see a psychologist for advice, as I felt like my college career was over that time.

My (late) psychologist, Dewi Dewo, CHt, advised me to focus more on my goal: get a well-paid job after graduation. Thus, she advised me to do more things beyond my college life — from expanding my networks to notable alumni to applying for internship in my dream company — and move on from being a failure. So I obeyed. I focused more on my internships and as she expected, I got my dream job even before I graduated from college. Because of my internships experience. Not my organisation leadership role.

Case 2

I faced my biggest failure when I didn’t get promoted in my dream job. It was in one of the notable management consulting firms where the rule is simple: either up or out. I was so devastated that time as I believed I had performed my best and always got great feedbacks from my superiors. The reason was quite blunt, the business went south at that unfortunate time and the company didn’t have enough budget for promotions. And yes, it was everyone in my batch who didn’t get promotion, not just me (this fact cheered me up a bit, knowing the fact that I was not the only failure).

Long story short, this circumstance forced me to get out of my comfort zone. So I made the most out of my resources to go through it. I reached out numerous alumni from the firm and tested myself out for every opportunity. Therefore, I got not 1 but 7 job offers. And I chose the job that felt the most right for me, even though the consulting firm finally offered me to stay. That career pivot brought me to who I am right now, excelling in my career that is more life-fulfilling and closer to my Ikigai.

From my two cases above, I learned that failures actually helped me to find the paths that fit me better. It was more like a moment for me to take a step back and revisited my goal to be more assured on how to better achieve it. From there I realised that failure is just a detour. I realised that there are many ways to Rome. I realised that to achieve a 10 is not solely by 5 plus 5 but also by 4 plus 6 or 2 plus 8. And most importantly, the way that I chose after a failure was the way that I was more comfortable and more content in doing. So bottom lined, overcoming a failure is not to get our attention fixed to the failure itself but to see what we can do to get back up.

Not just about the detour, failures can do so much for our self development. From the book Mindset by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, I learned that failures are the best teachers because we will get clarity on things that we need to improve in order to grow. Things become so obvious and pleasing — if we have the growth mindset — where we focus more on our improvement areas than the failures itself.

“When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.
Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Mindset

Failures also humbled me to always think that I’m not the “special one”. I screwed up and I made (a lot of) mistakes but I got back up. I should not have the fixed mindset and think that if I’m smart I will never fail. Everyone must have experienced failure at least once in a lifetime. And to be smart does not make a person failure-proof, even if you’re the smartest person in the humankind. I really hold on to this saying:

“The truth is there’s no such thing as a personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past, have it now, and are going to have it in the future.”
Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

Even Jack Ma failed to work at KFC yet he became one of the most successful person in the history. But did he ever expect that his failure actually “saved” him from being a regular KFC employee to become a billionaire? So was it a failure or a saviour?

One lessons from the Quran that I always hold on is “… But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you …” from Al-Baqarah (2): 216. It shows that what we think is good for us in life may not be the best for us, yet otherwise what we dislike maybe what really is the best for us. In addition to this, I also like this verse from the Bible “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” from John 6:37. If it really is for us, we will get it. Hence, what we can do is to strive for it. If we eventually don’t achieve, maybe we’re going to the wrong way.

Just like when we’re driving GPS-guided and the signal suddenly went off so we got lost. Does it mean that we will never reach our destination? No, we can just do a detour and find the right way. It may take more time. It may take more effort. It may cause pain and suffer. Yet from that we learn. After the detour we then know which road is less bumpy and we know what we should do to prevent the issues from happening again.

“… pain is part of the process. It’s important to feel it. Because if you just chase after highs to cover up the pain, if you continue to indulge in entitlement and delusional positive thinking, if you continue to overindulge in various substances or activities, then you’ll never generate the requisite motivation to actually change.”
Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck



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Product Manager for a tech company. A beginner in spiritual journey. I write on weekend with intentions to release negative emotions and turn it into learnings.