I’ve failed before, why won’t it happen again?

by PJ McClure on March 18, 2013

SuccessFailureSignThe biggest threat to your future success is your past failure. In fact, the images of failure are frequently more vivid than those of success.

Because we have all of this baggage with us, our minds have an easy time of talking us out of a new or repeat adventure.

We consider a goal or possibility and begin to get excited about how our lives would change for the better if we went for it. As soon as these thoughts begin, our brain kicks into self-preservation mode and tries to save us from potential embarrassment.

“Speak in front of your entire company? You don’t really think that you can do that, do you?”

“Remember in the third grade when you tried to read your story in front of the class? You messed up a word and a couple of the kids laughed. You wouldn’t want that to happen again, would you?”

“Big opportunities like that are for other people, not you.”

The internal dialogue is brutal. We replay the failures and misses from our past and treat ourselves as if we are still the same person that didn’t make it before. We have to learn from our past and allow ourselves to move on.

I’m the best example I know for the perils of failure. My entire childhood and most of my adult life shows the effects of hanging on to failures and losing opportunities. It’s difficult to grasp anything new when your hands are full of the past.

Past failure is a like the potent compounds used in prescription drugs. A little can have medicinal effects and make you better. Contact with huge amounts over prolonged periods will kill you.

The medicinal qualities of failure come from awareness. We look critically at the failure and pull the lessons for future improvement. This is how quality management systems work. We plan, execute, evaluate for improvements, apply the lessons, and plan again.

More importantly, we don’t just evaluate failures for improvements. We also dissect the successes to see how we can get better. To look at it properly, we shouldn’t even use failure or success as the labels. Everything in this phase is a result. We can get better from either.

Once we’ve found a way to improve (the lesson from the result), we let it go and move on. That’s right. Let go of your successes too, and move on.

I can’t speak for you, but for me, I always felt like I needed to hang on to my failures. It was a defense mechanism that didn’t allow anyone to catch me off-guard and bring me down. If I kept my failures close and brought them up before anyone else could, somehow that was an advantage. Completely freaking psychotic!

Unfortunately, I’ve found that I’m not the only one. Millions of people hang on to the past as a way of keeping themselves from hurt or embarrassment. It’s as if we use them to keep us from feeling too good about ourselves and out of harm’s way. God forbid we should feel TOO good about who we are!

This is why I say, prolonged exposure will kill you. When we continue to hang on to the past, it gets in our system. It might not be noticeable at first, but eventually the effects start to surface. Our behaviors toward achieving change diminish. The things we’re willing to attempt suffer as well.

For me, it manifested as a deluded sense of protecting an image. As a teenager, I convinced myself that it was better to look like I didn’t care than to lose while doing my best. If I could see that I wasn’t going to win, wouldn’t get an ‘A’, or the girl…I would pull up. Somewhere in that testosterone-plagued head of mine, it was better to look like I didn’t give my best effort than it was to give my all in defeat.

Why didn’t someone grab me by the shoulders and shake me?!

Giving your heart and soul to an endeavor is the only way to truly win. I have just as many stories of winning easily and not learning a thing. Regardless of the score, if you didn’t get better, you lost. However, if you are better in any way, you’ve won.

The habits created by my attitude carried into adulthood and effected everything I touched. I didn’t want to fail. My unconscious plan to prevent failure was to only engage in “sure wins” and never push the edge of what was possible. It never worked.

I was eventually outted as a closet failure by one of my distance mentors, Art Williams. Though I’ve yet to meet Art, during one of the dozens of his taped speeches I kept in my car, he described the patterns in his life.

A pattern of holding back and not giving it his all.

A pattern that repeated into his adult life.

A pattern that proved toxic until he let go of the failures and decided that they did not equal his future.

It was like he was reading my mail! That was my pattern. I had never seen it before, but sure enough, there it was. Fearing my past, I hid from my present. I held a grudge against myself for attempting and failing.

How’s that for dysfunctional? I secretly hated myself for being unwilling to risk more and despised myself for having ever risked in the first place. In order to change, I had to break that pattern. Enter forgiveness.

In the quiet of my room and the depths of my soul, I came face-to-face with every disappointment from my life.

  • The kindergartner that sometimes colored outside of the lines when his best friend never seemed to.
  • The second-grader in a new school that shrunk because he thought kids wouldn’t like him if he was in an advanced reading group.
  • The fifth-grader who missed a chance to have the prettiest girl in school as his girlfriend because people would find out he had never kissed a girl.
  • The eighth-grader, at a new school with a chance to start over, that decided to deny his true self and take on the “cool kid” persona.
  • The 16-year-old that didn’t have the guts to ask an adult for advice when his girlfriend said she was pregnant.
  • The 18-year-old that gave up baseball scholarships because he wouldn’t ask his coach for help to secure one.
  • The 22-year-old that partied himself into a hole because the resentment of his past left him empty.

On and on it went. I approached each demon, only to realize they weren’t demons at all. They were scared, uneasy pieces of me that just wanted to feel at home. Their purpose wasn’t to restrict my life or haunt me. They wanted to be forgiven, learned from, and welcomed as threads in the tapestry that is my life.

Bringing each one into the light and giving grace turned them from hidden weaknesses to conscious strengths. With every layer of forgiveness, I felt more alive. My head cleared and my heart freshened. For the first time, I could feel my soul breathe.

Your past does not equal your future. Past success does not equal future success. Past failure does not equal future failure. The lessons taken from each experience and the actions you take based on those lessons are the only real predictor.

When we look at failure, we have to learn and forgive. There is no future in resentment or guilt. Identify where you are stuck and find the block. Clear it out with whichever method of release you choose, but make sure to clear it. Your life depends on it.

Be your best,



Dennis May 10, 2011 at 9:32 am

PJ the articles are putting me in touch with myself on a deeper level than I am used to… kinda scary but necessary to keep moving forward. This last article makes so much sense to me.
Keep on doin what you do best!! My struggles are many, but with you in my corner the struggles are just that much easier to face…

PJ McClure May 12, 2011 at 9:26 am

Thanks for sharing Dennis. It’s often that extra shovel-full that gets us deep enough to make real changes. The courage to go deeper is what makes a “nice idea” turn into a huge breakthrough.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: