Your abilities and beyond: overcoming failure

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, retrieved 13 March 2019.
Images Happymom33 and Comfreak via Pixabay.

21 thoughts on “Your abilities and beyond: overcoming failure

  1. This is a very thoughtful discussion. I, too, have thought quite a bit about this topic, and I tend to think it’s the intrinsic motivators that keep a lot of creative people going (when it comes to creative endeavors, writing, etc.). Creating is like breathing. It’s something we have to do, and I imagine taking more than periodic breaks or experiencing more than short-term setbacks could be devastating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, and it’s essential for a rich inner life to have internally fulfilling and meaningful activity. We cannot all or always control that at work, but can count ourselves lucky if we’re able to do so in our down-time pursuits.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can relate to this on a very personal level. Restructuring is tough, and it seems to be more the norm these days (or it was on an annual basis where I used to work) than an exception. I love your thoughtful consideration of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. You have helped me understand something about my current journey. Maybe it’s too early to give up on my current quest. I hope you don’t mind if I share this out on this week’s Saturday Share.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A share would be wonderful, thank you. And yes, I think the time to give up is if something stops bringing satisfaction, not necessarily whether it’s attained ‘external’ success.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a fantastic blog post. The fear of failure resonates with me, for sure. The bullet list of questions at the end is a great way of unpacking the fear and cutting it down to size. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you remember that book Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, an early ‘self help’ work? I haven’t even read it! But somehow just the title helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve never heard of it, but I’m totally going to look into it now. That title is fantastic.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You have a beautiful mind and I love your style of writing, let me begin by saying the more I read about publishing the more realise this will never be a happy journey, the writer will assume they’re a failure yet their writing will be fabulous it’s just that the shark infested publishing world won’t treat the writer well, is that fair? The fear of failure doesn’t worry me simply because I’m content with my position at work, I neither earn a great deal of money or wield a great deal of authority (err lol none), but I’m happy at work…………………. perhaps our current Political turmoil is the reason for so many unhappy people at present, yes I think Brexit upsets me more than failure, we’ve been lied to and the British people deserve so much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear it. If we’re happy at work even a majority of the time, and decently paid, we’re amongst the lucky ones. But I agree Brexit is appalling, more of our jobs will be in danger because of it, including many of those desperate enough for change to believe those lies. Also agree mainstream publishing looks like a complete nest – it’s primarily about commercial success so that agents and publishers can take the very occasional (calculated) risk on the next literary sensation. No point crying about it; that’s how it is. I say lottery because we’re fed the occasional story of how someone waited one hundred years and wrote to one million agents and finally made it – just as some people do end up with the right combination of numbers on the right day.


  5. Always loved reading your posts – so how was the restructure? Self publishing is not a bad route – provided we do a good job with marketing –

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so kind. The restructure was brutal but we still have jobs and must be thankful.
      it’s true on self-publishing – the marketing is a whole additional job to do properly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My absolute pleasure. Wishing you the best

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You got me wondering why I don’t quit, why I started. For me, I really don’t know how to stop. and if I did, what else would I do? Not a great reason is it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s a great reason not to quit, because reluctance to do so shows an internal need is being met.


  7. I don’t know why i don’t quit. Maybe because giving up doesn’t look better, or isn’t more tempting. I write, and keep writing despite all the failures and rejections, because each – though disappointing – always makes me better onwards. I suppose that if i ever came upon a failure and i had absolutely no way around or through it, then i may give up. I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pride keeps us going sometimes, but I think it’s the intrinsic satisfaction of writing too. As you say, whether it’s the writing or the communication of even the promotion side of things, we keep learning.


  8. I don’t like regrets and I’ve had a few in my life. As I got older I starter thinking of that word. I don’t like the sound of it and I knew I would hear it if I continued with the excuses of never having enough time to write.

    I found the time. I wrote. I eliminated that word and now I have a new career. Sometimes we have to dig deep and discover what is holding us back. The result can be surprising.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. I adulthood we have largely stopped being formally graded or padded / failed, and we’re often our own worst critics. ‘Failing’ can become an excuse for not trying.


  9. I’m sorry to hear about your work issues. I know the pain.
    Self-publishing… it’s something that I’m trying not to think about, but will have to figure it out at some point. I can only keep my hand in the sand for so long.
    Great discussion on failure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’re looking to be published the conventional route, all the very best. Neither route is easy. At least we do have an option to self publish now and remain in control.

      Liked by 1 person

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