What keeps us going through failure and rejection?
Not the cheeriest of starts to a post, but I am working my way to a better place.
We’ve just had a restructure at work. They’re never much fun. This one was a marathon that ended in those already well positioned get a promotion, and those of us who weren’t failing to secure the same upgrade. It wasn’t much of a surprise, but it did hurt. Even when you know success is a long shot, you cannot help hoping, can you?
It’s made me reflect on how we keep going and stay motivated in such times?
It’s much the same with writing, so few of us attain success, whether that’s commercial or critical, but we keep going anyway. For myself, I chose a path of self-publishing. It’s not an easy route, but it does feel less—vulnerable. At one point I did dip a toe into the waters of queries to literary agents, then rapidly pulled it back out. It’s such a lottery, and the books I write don’t have any obvious comps – i.e. successful ‘comparison’ titles that are similar in terms of content or specific genre.
So why do we keep going? At work, it is, at least in part, due to those familiar ‘extrinsic motivators or external rewards, money and what it buys that we need or want, also social identity. I hope, over time, I will get some greater job satisfaction back, once this somewhat bruising period has passed.
For writing though, it’s down to ‘intrinsic motivators’ or internal rewards, the satisfaction, self-expression, the enjoyment of learning something—for it’s one of those things you’ll never stop learning to do better. It’s not that external rewards and objectives don’t matter, but they matter less if you can find an internal incentive for doing something.
Okay fine, but why and how do we keep going through something particularly tough?
Part of it is understanding the implications of the alternative – of giving up. Failure can make us feel powerless, but giving up is even more disempowering, a toxic force that can make us feel like a victim. And make us afraid of trying again.
In an article for Psychology Today, Theo Tsaousides asks some questions about fear of failure I find helpful because they put matters into perspective, and help remind me of the dangers of giving up. I have abridged these from his piece:
- Which of the consequences of failure scare you the most?
- How much impact will they have on you? Are they merely unpleasant or life-threatening?
- How quickly will you move on? Is this short-lived or will it linger forever?
- How well can you handle this? Can you exercise damage control or will you hide and disappear?
Tsaousides, T. 2018. ‘How to Conquer Fear of Failure’. Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201801/how-conquer-fear-failure retrieved 13 March 2019.
Images Happymom33 and Comfreak via Pixabay.