“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. Thats the essence of it.”
― Vince Lombardi Jr.
Have you ever wanted something so bad, but were too scared to try because you might fail?
Have you ever overcome your fear of failing, tried your best to make something happen, only to fall flat on your face?
Most people don’t try because they’re scared of failure. Because failure sucks. At best it stings. At worst, it can be fatal.
You can lose everything. You can end up flat on your back, broke, and broken.
But is the fear of failure worth not trying at all?
We only progressed as a species to where we are today because many brave souls before us were willing to fail.
And we’ll only get to where we need to go thanks to the brave souls willing to continue to embrace failing forward.
So since all progress in life relies on some amount of experimentation and failure, the question becomes:
How do you make a comeback after you’ve failed and fallen flat on your face?
The real problem we face in life is that so few of us know how to, and trust in ourselves to make a comeback after a failure.
Failure wouldn’t be so big of a deterrent if we were more confident in our ability to pick ourselves up again, dust ourselves off, figure out how we fell, and continue moving forward without losing hope and optimism.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
~ Winston Churchill
Struggle, serious setbacks, and even painful suffering would be revered as required rights of passage if we only had better tools and training to navigate the pits of the valleys en route to the mountain peaks.
The reason this is the main problem is because…
At no point in our lives are we taught how to fail intelligently and recover effectively.
Our parents usually don’t teach us. And how could they? Most of them are just as, if not more terrified of failure than we are.
Tell your parents about any idea you have (harebrained or brainy) that you want to pursue and watch how quickly they project all their fears of failure on to you.
Evolution has hard-wired us for loss-aversion over millions of years.
For our primitive ancestors, failure could mean serious injury or death, and comebacks were a luxury they wisely didn’t assume they’d be so lucky to make.
Fastforward to modern times and not much has changed. At least not in our amygdalae.
Our teachers and education system literally punish us when we fail and teach us from an early age right into young adulthood that failing is the single worst thing we can do.
Success is the carrot on the stick. It’s what we all ultimately want. We want to feel successful on the inside. And we want to appear successful on the outside.
But if you’ve ever truly striven for something, how many times can you honestly say you have succeeded at your goal?
1/4? 1/10? 1/25? 1/100?
The truth is human beings are mistake-making machines.
We make them even when we try our best not to. Sometimes many. And quite often.
We fail. We bail. And if we don’t have stoic, even heroic resolve, we can easily begin to identify as a failure thanks to our failings.
And then one day, we’re adults. Intelligent. Mature. Responsible adults. And scared shitless of making mistakes, being wrong, failing, and looking stupid. To pathological degrees even.
We can build entire lives and livelihoods around avoiding failure at all costs. And find ingenious ways to convince ourselves and others we’re right to do so.
This, I believe, is one of the sole causes of the epidemic of mediocrity we see in the world.
It’s safest in the herd. Not standing out. Not trying anything new. Not taking risk. And not failing at anything.
This may keep us “safe” in some ways.
But it comes with its own high price to pay.
Because not everyone is satisfied with the conventional path.
For those who feel compelled by some drive deep inside them to restlessly (sometimes recklessly) defy our socio-cultural shackles, with no training in falling and rising again after we fall, the fall can hit pretty hard.
And with its boot on our throats, keep us down when it does.
It did me. For a long time. When I launched my last business, my attitude was “failure is not an option.”
Don’t get me wrong. It’s critical to envision your success. To see it clearly in your mind’s eye. But not to get blinded by the idea of your success.
Because the truth is failure is ALWAYS an option. Especially when it’s your first kick at the can at something.
And I was a foolish Pollyanna for not seriously considering and acknowledging it at the time.
I was giving this online business thing my first real shot with no hard-earned experience at all under my belt.
Based on where I was at the time, failure wasn’t only an option, it was probable.
Some get a taste of bitter defeat, and never try to fly to high again. Forever to remain with their bellies on the ground and face in the dirt.
But for those who refuse to accept defeat, how do we get back up and try again?
How do we make a comeback?
“If you live life so cautiously as to never fail, you end up failing at life itself.”
~ J.S.B. Morse, Now and at the Hour of Our Death
8 Steps to Making a Comeback
These 8 steps can help you regroup, rebuild, and relaunch your efforts after falling flat on your back.
They’re not the only steps. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, maybe even many. But they’re the ones that helped and continue to help me get back on my feet again. And I’m sure will help me again in the future when I fail again.
So long as you have blood pumping in your veins, you can apply these steps to get back on course and moving in the direction you want to go in life and work.
1. Sincerely study what went wrong. Try hard not to repeat the mistakes.
When you’re flat on your back, you can make good use of the time there to figure out how you got there in the first place.
Sometimes it will be due to events and circumstances outside of your control. You could d everything right, make no mistakes, and still end up in the shitter. This happens.
Sometimes it will be due to poor choices and actions that were 100% in your control and that you are 100% responsible for.
And sometimes it’ll be a perfect storm, a series of unexpected, unpredictable events you never could’ve planned for made worse by your choice of actions to deal with them.
After I dropped the ball in my last venture, I had plenty of time to study what I did and didn’t do well. I saw where life did what life did, and where I failed to rise to the occasion.
In life, you can have reasons or results. If you’ve failed to get your desired results, there are reasons.
Figure out what they are. They may not be reasons you want to admit to yourself. But denial will only keep you flat on your back.
Our egos are ingenious at self-deception, and have brilliant tricks for having us not look at things that will bring us and them under a microscope. Resist these tempting suggestions to avoid self-examination.
Figure out the gap between what you thought would happen vs. what actually happened. Somewhere along the line, things fell apart. Maybe even before you realized they were.
Orlando Aloysius Battista said “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.”
And a failure is a mistake that remained uncorrected for too long.
The mistakes we make are often common to us. We’re creatures of habit. And we often trip in the same holes.
Do your best to get crystal clear on what went wrong and what mistakes got you to where you are.
Get brutally honest with yourself. Forgive yourself. Correct yourself. Then do your best to not make the same mistakes again.
2. Make a plan. Make sure it inspires you.
After a hard fall, crawling away to a dark corner to lick your wounds is understandable. I’ve done so myself more than once.
A serious failure can knock the wind out of you. And you may have to invest some time and energy in healing yourself.
This is not bad. It can be quite good. And wise to do so.
But staying in the infirmary bed after your mortal wounds have scabbed over is not a plan. And will not contribute to your comeback.
You need to make a plan of action. You don’t have to have all the next steps figured out to get moving again.
You just need a good-enough plan to get you off your back. It could be a as simple as a few steps. It could be the simplest first step to get you moving again.
It’s just gotta be a step forward.
Nobody goes from -10 to +10 in one fell swoop. If they do, they are the rare exception, not the rule.
Whatever your action plan is, make sure it inspires you. And by inspire I don’t mean effortlessly lifts you up like wind under your wings.
But is something you can see yourself doing consistently, is somewhat enjoyable, and that you believe will help you in some way begin to get firmly back on your feet.
Most importantly, it’s gotta be something that would get you out of bed on even the worst day.
With time, you can increase the ambitiousness of your plan. Maybe you can ramp it up quickly right after your fall. There are variables in everyone’s life that can support or subvert your progress.
It will always depend on who you are in the moment and how severe your fall was. There is no one-size fits all here.
Just get moving.
3. Envision what you want. And what you don’t want.
When you’re down and out, it’s easy for inertia to set in and get you stuck where you are.
A powerful way to break inertia and to get some momentum is to envision both what you want and what you don’t want.
The stoics argued for the benefits of negative visualization. Imagining things being worse than they are, and being grateful for them however they are at that moment.
Some will argue that you should not give any thought energy to negative potential outcomes. I understand their point, but I don’t fully agree.
The pain you’re in, and the convincing belief that you will have much more of it unless you commit to your comeback can be a motivating force if you allow it to be.
Pleasure is nice and cozy. But it can breed complacency. Pain commands attention and tending.
It’s not necessary to focus on the pain to get going, but it can help you start to envision how to heal it if you don’t deny it.
Envisioning what you do want instead can also be the carrot that gets you moving and keeps you moving.
If you’re making a comeback from a business or life failure, you were likely taking action because you had a vision you wanted to manifest.
Your initial attempt may not have worked, but your vision might still be doable with a slight adjustment or totally new approach.
Remember your “why”. Remind yourself what you were hoping all this effort would bring you and help you bring into the world.
When I was down, as tough as it often was, I never lost sight of the vision I held for me, my life, those I wanted to serve, and the impact I was committed to making.
Even though there were times when I had no idea how I was going to make it happen, and no clue what the next best steps were, it was the vision I held for my future that kept me hopeful and optimistic.
Keep in mind the pains you want to avoid and the gains you want to attain to help get you off your back and moving forward.
4. Accept 100% responsibility for your recovery. If your comeback is not on you, then who?
Sure, maybe you have a whole list of people and circumstances to blame for your fall in the first place.
I had more than a few things that happened to me over the years that were perfect reasons for failing.
A few of them are still haunting my family and I. I was actually quite resistant to getting this blog live because of the stressors that are still weighing down on me on a daily basis.
Short of totally abandoning my dad, it’s something I have to endure. All while taking full responsibility for my turnaround.
I may not be able to do all the things I want to do with my business for the next while due to my other duties, but at the very least I can write a few hundred words per day.
I may not be to blame for the shit that came into my life, but I am responsible for how I responded to it in the past.
And I am responsible for how I handle it in the future. Nobody is gonna make my comeback for me.
I don’t know you or your situation. I couldn’t possibly.
I don’t know what horrible shit you’ve seen or been through. I don’t know what traumas you’ve experienced or what suffering you’ve endured. And there’s no way I can even take a guess at what you might have to endure in the future. Especially if you strive for some big, scary goals.
Whatever you’ve been through, whatever you’re going through, or what you will still have to go through I can only imagine.
Maybe it was 100% not on you. Maybe it was all on you. Or maybe somewhere in between.
But the same applies to you as does to me as does to anyone else.
If you don’t take 100% responsibility for narrating your comeback story, nobody else can, or even if they could, should do it for you.
And why would you want them to anyway?
They can’t possible hold your vision for a better life as near and dear to their hearts as you do.
And if you allow anyone else to, if you sacrifice that responsibility, you are forfeiting the most powerful gift the Universe has given you.
That may feel like boulders on your shoulder blades, but what are the alternatives?
For that reason alone it would benefit you to take your life by the reigns and put all your strength and whatever else God / the Universe / or whatever you want to call It, can grant you into steering it back in the direction you want it to go.
5. Find the Silver Lining
One of the biggest obstacles that will keep you from getting up and trying again is the excruciating pain of severe regret in the present for your past failures, combined with the fear of even more regret in the future. Once bitten twice shy as they say.
But no regrettable action leaves you with nothing positive to take from it. Most regrettable actions, at the very least, leave you with hard-earned experience and lessons you can learn from them.
In their seminal research paper, The Experience of Regret: What, When, and Why (1), Thomas Giloviqh and Victoria Husted Medvec state:
“When faced with the sting of regrettable action people often do “Psychological repair work” that effectively decreases the pain of failure. They do this because they are in pain and almost unconsciously seek ways to alleviate the pain. This includes “Identifying silver linings” (sure I failed, but I learned so much I couldn’t have learned any other way)…”
I bet if you really took the time to self-evaluate, every failure you’ve ever endured has taught you something valuable. Every. Single. One.
Like a baby learning how to walk, all your stumbling in life has helped you get a firmer footing.
In the moment of failure, when we’re up to our eyes in regret thanks to some stupid mistake(s) of ours, it’s hard to see the silver lining. But it’s almost always there.
And with time and belief that it is there, it can eventually become more clear.
If you’re currently feeling the sting of recent regrettable action, try to find something positive in your missteps.
What did you learn that you didn’t know before? That you couldn’t have known before?
Can you share these lessons with others to help them avoid the pitfalls?
Can you be a lighthouse to help other people navigate their ships in the dark and avoid crashing into the rocks all around them?
Personally, I get great joy out of being able to help friends and clients avoid the pitfalls I stepped in. Knowing better myself where the dangers are, I can shine a light to illuminate the dangers that they might have missed themselves.
The more people I do this for in life, the richer and more fulfilling my life becomes. And the more meaningful and valuable my previous failures become.
If you’ve been through some hell, there’s likely more than a few people in your life who are have also been through it, are currently in it, or about to go through it, who you can help a great deal.
All your scars are lessons.
6. Get support. Have the courage to ask for help. And if you can, help others.
This one is a clincher. If you’re serious about making a comeback in life, this is one step you do not want to skip.
If you are down, and almost out, do not underestimate the power of good company.
If it wasn’t for the incredible people in my life, I might have been in a rubber room by now.
And even though I know this, and am so clear how I’ve benefited from their support, I’m still resistant to ask outright for help. It’s my Achilles heel, maybe even for life.
Growing up a tough, drug-addicted, drunk, hustler, being perceived as needy or vulnerable was seen as a weakness and weaknesses almost always got exploited.
Even though we rolled in tight packs, I still felt like a lone wolf who had to look out for himself.
Most men I know are like this. The ones doing their deep self-study are better at it. But all to some degree find resistance being on the needing and receiving end of the help.
If you are currently on your back, or find yourself there in the future, and want to get up and make a comeback, having the courage to be vulnerable and seek support will be a lifeline that can spare you days, weeks, months, even years of unnecessary struggle.
No man is an island. We need each other.
And giving someone you’re close to an opportunity to support you can be incredibly rewarding for them as well.
It can deepen relationships and build social resilience for both of you.
Human beings got to where we are today not because we’re fast or strong. It’s not because we have sharp teeth or claws. It’s not because we’re big or really good at working on our own.
It’s because we can band together, support each other, and tend to each other’s wounds. Our ability to work together, to depend on, and to lift each other up is our greatest strength.
And when making a comeback, it can be the key ingredient to it happening now, later, or even never.
7. Forget naysayers. Remember healthy criticism.
If you’ve failed, there will be people saying stay down. Some will say it because they’re sincerely scared for you. They care for you and see you suffering. They have empathy for you and feel your pain and don’t want to see you go through it again.
And it might even be because they can’t handle the discomfort of your pain themselves.
They mean the best, but they may project on to you all of their fears. If they can’t imagine themselves enduring what you’re enduring, they can’t imagine you enduring it either.
But you are not them. And just because they believe they can’t endure it, doesn’t mean you can’t.
Then there are the people who enjoy watching your struggles. Who get some sadistic, schadenfreude-kicks out of your misfortune. They’ll criticize. They’ll mock. Sometimes to your face, but almost always behind your back.
And if you want to get back up again, you need to give zero fucks about this second group of people. They are the cowards in the stands and have not earned the right to have an opinion that matters about those who courageously strive and fall.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
That being said, healthy criticism and constructive feedback always has a place, and can be a great benefit when figuring out what went wrong and how to make corrections.
Because if you think you had zero to do with how you got laid out, you might be seriously deceiving yourself.
Good coaches, honest friends, masterminds, and other supportive relationships can help us see our blind spots. Sometimes we cannot see why we stumble because we’re too close to the battle. Too emotionally engaged in the fight.
A trusted confidant can give a healthy outsiders perspective that can help us make our comeback.
And even if there are enough total strangers also calling you out on your shit, it might still be a good reason to pause and reflect.
I’m the first to say the mob is almost always wrong, but if they present a strong argument, it might be you whose got things twisted.
8. Be hard and soft on yourself. Too much of either won’t help.
Being masochistic is easy when we fail. How we treat ourselves when we’re at our lowest plays a huge role in how long we stay there.
Being kind to yourself and forgiving yourself for your past fuck ups is probably one of the most important parts of making a comeback. If you cannot forgive yourself, you will never move forward.
If you cannot make peace with yourself, and let chapters in your past close, you cannot write new ones.
This is why it’s important to be soft on yourself.
But not too soft. Because too soft will also keep you stuck.
Being tough on yourself and holding yourself to account for you actions and mistakes is as important as forgiving yourself.
But here’s the distinction: Forgiving yourself is not the same as letting yourself off.
If you find yourself at either extreme – too cruel or too kind – bring yourself back to centre.
or as the Buddhists refer to it, The Middle Path.
Tough self-love tempered with forgiveness can help you be at peace with yourself, while keeping the fire burning under your ass.
Putting these into practice
These don’t have to be done in order. Many can be done in tandem. Some you might want to dive deep in and spend more time practicing than others.
I can’t say what will work or won’t work best for you. Making a comeback is a personal experience.
Although we all share common struggles, each one’s journey is unique. And each one’s path to redemption is for them to walk at their own pace.
So where are you on your journey?
Flat on your back and in dire need of making a comeback?
Or scared to step out of your cozy comfort zone because you’re terrified of failing, falling on your face, and having to go through the ordeal of rebuilding?
This blog may be for you. Or it may be for someone you know. Or neither.
But in a real way, seeing that this is one of the first few pieces I’ve written publicly in years, this post is for me.
I’ll be writing more about what I’ve seen and been through in life. For so long, I postponed my comeback because of my own fears and doubts. My own fears about being vulnerable. About revealing and healing my shadows in a public way. About admitting my failures.
But I’m crystal clear now that my mess is the basis of my message.
What’s I’ve learned through my fucked up, crazy, self-destructive life has given me a perspective on myself and the world I wouldn’t trade for anything. And that I couldn’t have gained any other way.
I’m grateful for my failures, and now, for my opportunity to make a comeback.
Whatever you’re going through, or anticipating you might go through, I hope these words help you in some way on your journey.
He’s to walking the courageous road less traveled. I hope to see you somewhere along it.
The Experience of Regret: What, When, and Why (1)