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Five Tips on How to Persist after Failure

An attendee sends a message at NCCWSL 2017.

Over my three years as a victim advocate and educator at American University I’ve worked closely with hundreds of college women. While each student interaction is unique, one element creeps its way into nearly every conversation: the immense pressure to succeed according to a prescribed time line.

Whether her goal is graduate school or that dream job in tech, almost every young woman I’ve encountered has a specific idea of where she should be by 25. And believe me, I get it. If you have an idea of where you want to go, and you know what you want to do, it makes sense to create an action plan for yourself.

But what happens when things don’t go according to plan? How do we recover? How do we persist?

In my mid-20s I left a stable and well-paying job to attend a doctoral program at a large university. But things didn’t go according to plan. As soon as the semester began, I felt like something was off. I didn’t get the material. I didn’t fit in. I began to think I’d made a huge mistake. If this plan didn’t work out, I surmised, I’d be a failure with no direction who would never amount to anything.

Ultimately, I couldn’t cut it. I dropped out. And while it’s true that I failed at this specific goal, I also learned a lot about myself and the kind of life and career I wanted. Even more importantly, I learned about resilience.

In a nutshell, resilience is our capacity to persist in the face of stress, hardship, or even trauma. And get this — it’s a skill you can build! Here are five key things you can start doing right now to enhance your own resilience and capacity to persist in the face of failure.

  1. Recognize failure as a part of life, not a permanent way of being. This simple shift in perspective allows us to conceptualize failure as a normal and healthy part of the human experience.
  2. Embrace change. It’s cliché, but it’s true: Change is the only constant in life.
  3. Build a strong social network. Supportive relationships are mutually beneficial.
  4. Practice gratitude. Naming just three things you are grateful for every day can increase your happiness, empathy, and mental strength. It can also reduce feelings of regret, envy, and resentment.
  5. Seek help when you need it. Therapy for everyone! A licensed therapist can be a tremendous help for anyone going through tough times or proactively working on resilience.

And always remember: As poet and activist John Sinclair said, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.”

Want more leadership tips? For more than 30 years, NCCWSL has provided a transformative experience for the next generation of leaders. Join us from May 30 through June 2, 2018.

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This blog was written by NCCWSL steering committee member Sara Yzaguirre.

By:    January 31, 2018