FEW THINGS IN LIFE ARE GUARANTEED. But there’s one thing that you can absolutely take to the bank: You will fail. You’ll blow the sale, fumble the date, whiff the interview, get lost, finish last, and generally look and feel like an idiot.
This is a good thing.
Because while success is the metric by which we’re judged, failure is the mechanism that shapes us. It’s a by-product of living boldly, a symptom of refusing to play it safe, the fertilizer for developing character and grit. The trick is to learn how to use failure to your advantage— rather than let it steamroll your soul.
The secret? You have to believe, despite all available evidence, that your latest screwup was not, in fact, an unrecoverable setback but a hiccup that, in a weird cosmic way, bettered you in the long run. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: Trust that a failure makes you kinder, smarter, stronger—and it will. Psychologists basically all agree on this.
The catch is that though flubbing is nothing new, these days it’s a decidedly different experience than ever before. The reason: social media. Your latest breakup, layoff, or embarrassment is now potentially, and likely, on full display to your friends, family, and colleagues. Social media can also make you feel like a failure, with everyone on Instagram #crushingit 24/7. No surprise, according to a 2017 study, 60 percent of social-media users report that it negatively affects their self-esteem.
But, frankly, forget wallowing in defeat or negativity, because, as Truman Capote said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” And take heart in the fact that almost anything worthwhile is preceded by some gnarly shit-eating and floundering, and that whatever doesn’t ravage your confidence and self-worth will make you not only stronger but also bolder, happier—and, with a little luck, wiser. —J.R. Sullivan