Handling Failures

I’m going to get to the point right off the bat here. There are two golden rules of handling failures.

Just two, basic, unassailable facts of life.

#1. NEVER EVER think of ANYTHING or ANYONE as your ONLY option

Failures cause heartbreaks whenever we fail to separate our identities (who we are) from our roles (what we have got to offer in a particular context).

Meet Abhishek. A young MBA graduate who had been fantasizing about McKinsey – the world’s most famous strategy consulting firm – ever since he joined b-school. But as life would have it, he didn’t make it through campus placements. Not even when he tried again after he’d worked in another consulting firm for a couple of years.

Naturally, he went into a depression. Based on a completely irrational understanding of the situation, of course.

Abhishek’s not alone. If you’re a professional who didn’t get that dream job – you’re not “good enough” because you’re only one of the many options your employer has.

If you’re a student rejected by some prestigious school – you’re rejected because you’re only one of the gazillions of applications they’ve received.

If you’re a man/woman turned down for a date by your crush – you’re “not interesting enough” because you’re only one of the many choices they have.

No one has rejected you as a person. No one even knows you, or is even bothered about you as an individual.

Your employer wants a brain and a pair of hands that can give them a desired level of output from a certain job role. Your dream school wants a certain minimum level of test scores, GPAs, subject-specific experience etc. – a profile. That guy/girl wants a certain height, a certain level of physical attractiveness coupled with a set of other characteristics such as career standing, intelligence, sense of humour etc.

They aren’t bothered if it’s you, or a Tom, Dick or Harry. Then why are you bothered about whether it’s Company X, university Y or individual Z, as long as your professional/educational/personal goals are fulfilled?

Personally, I don’t even like the idea of dream universities/companies/mentors/…. The moment you use the words “dream” and “employer”/ “university” in the same sentence you’re mixing emotions with practical transactions. They just don’t mix. You’re viewing someone (an employer/a target educational institution) with emotions, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Don’t bring emotions into a relationship where they won’t be reciprocated. Do not EVER set an individual – be it an organization or a human being – as your goal. Focus on setting better goals instead. Refine your objectives even further. Obtain as much clarity as possible on exactly what you want from a particular organization/human being. And then be completely agnostic to the particular organization or human being that can fulfill those requirements.

Which brings me to the second golden rule of handling failures – the Rule of the Ultimate Goal.

#2. Focus on the ultimate goal

We often get bogged down by failures to achieve intermediate goals, losing focus on our ultimate goals.

Take the Great Indian Career Goal – cracking the IIT entrance. Every year thousands of students take the entrance examination. Many of them fail to crack it. But if you ask them what exactly they want from an IIT degree, most would fail to give you a clear answer. Heck – most kids don’t even know which subject they want and use an “IIT vs Department” optimization algorithm to choose a department-IIT combination based on their ranks.

Still, let’s take Ratna – who knows she wants to go to a top 10 US university for a PhD after her IIT degree, and she has – gasps – failed to crack the JEE.

Has she really failed? No. Only one of the multiple paths to her ultimate goal stands closed, not others. If she does her research she’ll realize there are enough non-IIT engineering colleges that regularly send students into her target grad schools, provided these students score excellent GPAs, demonstrate research experience etc.

Similarly, ask yourself what is the exact set of goals (financial as well as experiential) that you’re trying to achieve when you apply for a particular job. Which other roles in other organizations can offer you the same?  You haven’t failed if you’ve failed to crack a particular interview. You’ve failed if you’ve failed to get, say, at least 2 interview calls per month based on 5 applications per week that you make. That’s how specific and objective you need to be when choosing your goals.

Those are my two cents on how I see failures, and how I try to handle them. What’s your experience? Don’t forget to share in the comments.

Author’s Bio: Sulagna Dasgupta has been writing about self-improvement and relationships for more than 5 years. Her India’s first dedicated relationships & marriage blog, also offering FREE unlimited anonymous relationship counselling. Her mission is to facilitate more open thinking about love & relationships in India in the long run.