Smart Ways Strong Women Turn Failure Into Success

Don't let setbacks get you down.

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Success can be seductive, but failure is full of opportunities for growth.

Though failure is such a disheartening word, it still sits on the other end of a scale with success, which is why learning how to overcome failure is what counts. 

Instead of seeing success and failure as a see-saw of opposites, consider them as complements. They can flow toward and away from one another. That flow can contain opportunities to minimize failure and optimize success. Neither stays constant in our lives. Success and failure are both dynamic — shifting just as your situation, environment, and the people in your life do.  


As you do, success and failure evolve over time, even though each one can seem to happen immediately. And as you’ve probably noticed, achieving meaningful success usually takes a while. Getting to it may even seem anticlimactic after all your efforts.

In fact, I’ve found the best part of getting there is just before I reach success, when I can feel it coming. Capturing this, Stanford University happiness researcher Brian Knutson said, “Anticipation is totally underestimated.” On the other end of the experience, feelings of failure that are not stuck in regret and unhappiness can offer an opportunity or passage to a better, or at least promising, situation.


Knowing this will help you embrace your failures when they arise, to take steps toward the success you desire.

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To identify opportunities for converting failure to success, start by remembering a specific situation in which you feel you failed.  

Tell or write out a very short story to yourself about how and why you missed the mark you set for yourself. As you reflect, ask yourself questions like:

  • Were your expectations reasonable?
  • Did you have the necessary resources such as time, people, and things?
  • Was your motivation authentic or reflective of others’ values and interests?
  • What circumstances were beyond your influence or control?
  • How much of your judgment and focus were affected by craving or coveting?

Next, identify the what you've learned from your failure.


When you come away with at least one useful lesson you will apply, you may already be on a road to success. One route may involve being ready to try again with improved savvy, self-awareness, and less fear or anxiety. Another is to start on a related, more promising path that will be important, inspiring, and motivational to you. Still another is to apply your insights to different actions.

Then, test your vision for the future by identifying what success looks like for you.  

As American writer and newspaperman Herbert Kaufman wrote, “Failure is only postponed success as long as courage ‘coaches’ ambition. The habit of persistence is the habit of victory.”  Implicit in this idea is that success is a process, where the result is just the cherry on top.

So, what are your cherries? Your view of success may be tangible, intangible, or a combination of outcomes. Examples of tangible success include income, things such as cars and homes, an educational credential, and a prestigious position. Among the intangibles are feeling a sense of peace and self-respect, spiritual beliefs that anchor your life, and contributions to others as an individual or member of a community. In these latter examples, there may be evolutions and improvements, rather than neat, material conclusions.


Success ebbs and flows through various experiences and changes in what has meaning for you.

Lastly, be open to changes in your vision.

With experiences of failure, as well as success, there can be periods of self-questioning. As accomplished film director Sidney Lumet said at 81, “I always have moments of doubt. I never get rid of that actor’s instability. I think, I’ll never work again.”


To me, self-questioning can be creative and productive, as long as it feeds growth and avoids excessive criticism.  Whenever you wonder "is this all there is," remind yourself that the goal here is to just keep on learning, from both failure and success. And enjoy, adapt, and embrace both processes of realizing your true capacities.

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Ruth Schimel, PhD is a career and life management consultant and author of Choose Courage: Step Into the Life You Want and related handbooks, who writes about personal and professional development. Ruth consults with individual and organizational clients in the Washington DC area or by phone and email, encouraging them to access their own courage and ways to convert failure to success. Information about her practice and free consult offer at


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