How to Take "Failure" Like a Champ




A few years ago, I applied for PhD programs in Clinical Psychology. I got rejected from every single one which hurt to say the least. Through the year following those rejections, I realized just how naive I was, but more importantly I realized how to deal with "failure". Looking back I can now see why I was rejected and how that doesn't make me intrinsically inferior or an outright failure at everything in my whole entire life and just doomed for mucking dirt and eating rocks.  Coming to terms with those rejections has also made it a lot easier to come to terms with getting rejected generally.  Of course I still get a little upset and a bit angsty, but that's normal for anyone and doesn't become a problem unless it starts affecting my life or the lives of others.

This isn't a feel-good-everything-is-grand Instructable.  It's a simple guide on coming to terms with rejection/"failure" and moving on because stagnating through obsession won't get anything done and will doubtfully make you or me a better or happier person.  It doesn't do any good to lash out at others and make them feel bad for their successes, and it doesn't do any good to stew in a well of worthlessness or feel that the whole entire world is against you.  It takes a lot of discipline to deal with rejection well, and it isn't easy.  I can't say I'm always successful at the process of taking failure like a champ, but it's certainly worth trying to be a champ especially if you just got rejected.

Step 1: Whine About It

Go ahead and whine about it.  Whine to yourself, a good friend, a relative, or someone who can maybe make you feel a little better.  Just don't whine publicly because you risk making others feel bad and making yourself look bad.  There's no point in going public unless you've managed to compile some solid evidence of unfairness.

Step 2: Getting in the Mindset

It is absolutely critical to be in a mindset where you can accept the rejection and be able to respect the successes of others. 

You didn't get rejected because you are intrinsically inferior or bad.  You got rejected because someone/something was better or more appropriate than what you offered or created.  What you offered/created wasn't necessarily terrible.  It might have been really super amazing, but someone just managed to do something a little more spectacular or something that was a little more appropriate for someone else's needs.  The rejection is not necessarily a reflection of your worth or capabilities.
Whatever your motto is or whatever helps to get you to a point of acceptance, remember it.  Write it on a wall.  Chant it.  Embroider it.  Just keep it in your head.

Step 3: Figure Out the "Why"

Once in the right mindset, calm and relaxed, start figuring out exactly why you were rejected.

  • What did someone else offer that you didn't?  What was different?
  • Was it completely and totally unfair and others were already setup to succeed regardless of any other competition?

Be fair about this.  The person judging you or your work might not have had all the information necessary, but based on the information at hand, a decision had to be made.

Step 4: What You Could Have Done

Once you know why, then it's time to consider what you could have done, but be careful to not obsess on all the what-ifs.  You just need a couple things that you could have done so that you can improve upon what you do in the future should it still be worth your while.

  • How much time/effort did you invest?
  • Did you do your best?  Could you have done more?

Note:  If you didn't do your absolute perfect best, that makes it pretty easy because someone else could have done a lot more work than you did, and then it just boils down to how much work you need to invest.  No matter how skilled or intelligent someone is, there is still a lot of work in being exceptional.  Some people just have to work harder than others, and sometimes limitations just have be accepted.

Step 5: Moving On

Once you are in the mindset, know why you got rejected, and know what you could have done, plan for the future.  This is to help you move on and not dwell on past rejections.

  • What will you do differently?  What do you need to do to improve your chances of success?
  • Is it worth trying to do again?

Note: Not doing it again at all is also an option.  Know your limitations.



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    21 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Failing opens doors for learning. One can never learn and succeed without falling, so its is very important to to take "Failure" like a champ.

    It's horribly nerve wracking and just not fun at all.  I've been through it twice.  The second round was successful if it makes you feel any better, but it wasn't a PhD in clinical psych.  Sometimes rejection is a good thing in hindsight.

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Without getting into a debate on “fatism” versus “choose your own destiny” or a debate on religion and faith, I want to add that often failure leads to bigger and better things.Edison had an adage that went something like, “Before I invented the light bulb, I invented thousands of ways to NOT make a light bulb.”Failure is part of everyone’s journey.  Without failure, success isn’t as sweet.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Failing often helps too!

    If you're not failing, your goals aren't high enough :p


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Well this is better then what my real shrink told me when i was 9.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You should not "whine" about your failure! Better do something so the next time won't be failure.

    1 reply

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Personnal insight takes time and effort- thanks for making the effort and sharing it.  (Was this a therapeutic exercise for you?)

    2 replies
    It was somewhat therapeutic because I don't think I was ever really taught how to come to terms with rejection, and it really is a skill.  I would tell people how upset I was, especially as a child and adolescent, but the most I got in response was, "Ya, that sucks.  Don't do it again in the future.  Learn from the experience."  Generally that response felt like I should shut up and move on without any guidance on how to move on.  It was like jumping directly to Step 5.  Of course, I figured it out, but it would have been nice to have been taught at least some tools.  So I hope that my experiences will help someone else and make things a little easier.  Even if this method isn't right for everyone, which I'm sure it isn't or at least won't be in every single situation, it'll hopefully at least send the message that it really is a skill to be learned and will hopefully be a jumping off point for people to develop their own method of resolution and acceptance.

    Therapuetic and healthy communication skills are not taught in our culture-  which I believe leaves many of us feeling unheard and isolated.  I know I was taught to NOT be open with feelings and opinions lest we alienate or intimidate others-  makes it pretty tough to connect with people.

    Thanks again,