It’s inevitable. Sometimes we fail. And while we’d prefer to simply avoid failure, it’s impossible to get through life without failing at something. So it’s important to know how recover from failure.


A few days ago I wrote about 5 warning signs that failure might be around the corner but I don’t think that gives you everything you need to know. In fact I bet that when you were reading it you thought something like “Yeah, Bryan, that’s great. But what do I do if I’ve already failed.”

Well, today I’m thinking about that. I’ve had some real doozies of failures throughout my life and I’ve had to learn how to recover from them. I remember one time, in my last year of college where I messed up and didn’t recover well at all.

One of my failures

I went to school to be a music teacher and while I was doing my student teaching I messed up. I was leading a band rehearsal and I lost count of where we were and tried to end the song early. Then, when nobody followed me (because they all knew I was wrong) I tried to pass it off as their failure to follow me. Not smart.

Not only did I mess up the music part. But I really messed up the leadership part by trying to cover up my mistake and make it about their failure to follow me. (Leaders, don’t get after your people for not following when it’s clear that you’re wrong. Everybody sees through this.)

To have one failure was bad enough. But to compound one failure with a second, even more intentional failure. Not good. Not my proudest moment.

Not a “Final Failure”

Fortunately, most failures, like my example, are not final failures. They’re not the things that mark our lives forever or, worse, end our lives on the note of failure. And recognizing that failure is not permanent unless we make it so is an important perspective – something I wish I’d understood better when I was younger.

Now that we’re agreed that most failures aren’t final (we’re agreed, aren’t we?) I’d like to offer you a quick framework to recover from failure. It’s not original to me – it’s actually been written into a song – but, much like “Stop, Drop, and Roll” (what to do if you catch on fire) it’s an easy way to remember.

  1. Pick yourself up
    If you find yourself lying on the ground with the proverbial mud of failure on your face, don’t stay there; get up. Start the process of changing your identity from “failure” to “success” by simply getting up and leaving the place of your failure.NOTE:

    I don’t mean you should leave your family if you and your wife have a fight. That’s compounding one failure with another, larger failure.

  2. Dust yourself off
    Take a minute to clean yourself up – physically, mentally, relationally, or spiritually. Deal with the residue from your failure. Think through what got you to where you are and what you would like to have done differently that might have changed everything.If you need to, get some friends involved. After all, we can’t always clean everything up ourselves. Sometimes we need the help of a friend. And sometimes, like when my wife and I have our carpets cleaned, we need the help of a professional.

    So, if you need some help, get some help.

  3. Start all over again
    This one’s the final key. Don’t just stand around – even all cleaned up – and let a failure define you. Start over.I don’t necessarily mean you should start over at the same thing; maybe that’s not a great idea. But start over at something. Start with a new beginning.

    Don’t think of it as trying to dig yourself out of a hole. Think of it as starting again from a new beginning point – where you are now.

So, there you go. Three simple steps to recover from failure. No, they’re not always easy and they’re not always fun. But, if you do them over and over you’ll find that you can go from failure to to new action more quickly. And that your failures will become learning points as you move forward in your life.

A beautiful audio reminder

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a recording of the song I mentioned. This one is Diana Krall performing live in Paris back in 2001. It’s an amazing recording and I hope you like it.

Embedded Media: Click here if you have trouble viewing it.

As you take a minute to listen and enjoy, think about where you are. Are there some places where you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again?

Photo credit: stevendepolo on Flickr (Creative Commons)

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