How To Bounce Back From Feeling Like a Failure After Not Succeeding a Major Goal

Now one of the big reasons I’ve been so bad at consistently posting this year, aside from my lifelong chronic procrastination, is I had a big life goal that completely failed. Since July 2021 I have been taking medical classes to make a career jump into the world of medical coding. And I value your time so I will keep my sob story on the short side, but the semester I took for Medical Coding Basics from Jan 2022 – April 2022 … I failed. I did not pass. I was not able to collect my $200 – and there was no room in the next class to take the course again. I blew it. And aside from feeling stupid, which has been a thing of mine all my life since I was bullied as a kid and called stupid all the time, even by teachers; it was absolutely devastating. It felt like with all the time, frustration and tears I poured into continued education towards the medical industry … that I failed BIG TIME. 

And full disclaimer here: I still feel like I failed. So I don’t have all the answers. But I am getting to that point where I feel that it’s okay to fail. It is okay. And it’s okay to feel like a failure. It is okay. That doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world as much as my anxiety and depression would like me to believe. And I’m starting to believe that just because I didn’t succeed doesn’t mean that I am a failure as a person. And while it took me three months to get to this point, I am sharing my story with you today and some tips I learned along the way so hopefully the next time you don’t succeed at something, you can bounce back quicker and come back stronger mentally.

I have done a lot of research on how to recover from feeling like a failure. And all the motivational videos have been great, but it isn’t about lack of motivation. It isn’t about not wanting the end result enough to give everything I have in my tank to go for it. Sometimes things are just outside of my wheelhouse, as was the case with medical coding. 

Plus, the motivation videos out there seem to act like if you count your blessings, remember why you started, never ever give up, be grateful every day, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, wake up every day with your goal in mind … that it fixes everything. That sounds like pretty advice, and those things sure help, but it doesn’t make that dreadful feeling go away of not succeeding your dreams.

I was plenty motivated to leave the world of sales, receptionist, retail behind (I have tried a few different careers in my past as shown here on my resume) and dive head first as a remote medical coder, without any medical or scientific background at all. It really did feel do or die to me to pass this course so I could move on with the rest of the planned continued education to get the certificate. The pressure to pass was on. So it’s not always about motivation and drive, especially if one has mental health issues they are battling also. But, while failing isn’t always preventable, staying in that “feeling of failure” mentality can shift into a more positive light. 

It’s not always about “getting over it” but it’s about “feeling better about it” so you can move on. 

Please note:  if failing has spiraled you into a vortex of depression or anxiety, please consult a healthcare professional. Natural remedies and mental chatter tips are great, but therapy and/or medication may be needed for your individual needs. I am not a healthcare advisor, I am just sharing some tips I’ve experienced personally. I wanted to share what has helped me get past the awful feeling of failing a semester and thus my career-changing-dreams. I’ve been ‘coping’ by escaping into playing “Animal Crossing” all day for the last three months which I started the game for the first time in May 2022, and I don’t recommend completely losing yourself like that to escape the feeling of failure. Escapism to some degree can be good for you but not all day every day for three months. However, I feel ready to dust off my planner and start to be productive again. Again, I’m not fully recovered. I still feel … bummed and/or sad about it nearly every day. And some days are better than others. But here’s some tips to help you get out of the woods of failure. Because motivation, desire and ambition is just part of the game. It’s not about not having wanted it enough, it’s about just not having been able to succeed and how to move on from that. 

In This Article:

1. Failure Is Not Opposite Of Success

2. Take Time to Grieve the Dream 

3. Redefine Success & Failure 

4. Thank Yourself for Trying 

5. Find New Passion or Career Path 

6. Don’t Compare Your Progress 

7. Disappointment Is Okay 

1. Failure Is NOT the Opposite of Success 

The quote that failure is NOT the opposite of success is one of my favorites because it’s a truth that’s easy to forget. Since kids, we are taught to “win” and to avoid “lose” at all costs. From sports to grades, the pressure to “win” is programed in us at a young age. But the truth is, losing is a part of winning. It’s not the part that people like to brag about. In fact, people hide away the ugly parts in the back of their minds, trying hard to forget that it happened. Pretending they are cool enough to win without the losses. Or, they already accepted that failing is apart of learning and have a healthy relationship with losing. I envy those people. I am not one of those people. I dwell on my mistakes and ruminate them at an unhealthy level. So, if you can, try to see the “failures” as “lessons” instead. I know it is easier said than done. But if you are able to do it sooner than later, it helps the process of moving on. 

I need to work on the “getting back up” part of failing. I should look at it as part of training. No one is born great, they start off small and work their way up. But I can’t help but to feel “stupid” or like a “loser” if I don’t catch on quickly. Especially with studying. When the other students in the class caught on way faster than I did, I was mega embarrassed. I was blushing so much I felt like I was radioactive with how much I was glowing with embarrassment. I expected to be teased on the zoom call. Luckily in continued education, they were mature about it when I didn’t know the answer to the question I was called on to answer. It wasn’t like in elementary school, middle school and high school where I was teased relentlessly for not getting the answers quickly. 

One tip that has helped me, especially on my path to Yoga, is to laugh when I make a mistake. It might sound like I’m embracing my inner Pinkie Pie, but her advice to “laugh it off” is actually very sage advice at any age. It kind of helps resets the mentality and to try again. Like when I wobble on a Yoga pose and fall down, I simply laugh and try again. I often am not able to make a Tree Pose or a perfect Downward Facing Dog even yet, but it helps feel like trying again, to laugh off the mistake. 

However, getting questions wrong on tests, not being able to finish them on time, and not be able to retake the tests – makes being a student in traditional education super discouraging. I’ve always been a horrible test taker and the fact the tests were timed made it extra challenging. I don’t really have advice on how to get over a bad test grade you can’t retake, except be honest with your instructor. Sometimes teachers can let you make-up or perhaps even some extra credit. Wasn’t the case for me, sadly, but it doesn’t hurt to ask or at the very least let the teacher know what’s going on so they know you are trying. A little empathy goes a long way so you at least know you’re not doing it alone. The good news from talking to my teacher about it, was she was very kind to me about it. She said I would be a good medical coder because I read carefully, which didn’t help me during the timed tests, but her encouragement made me want to try even more. Though it didn’t work out in my favor, it made the journey more enjoyable having the instructor rooting for me. So talk to people who are in charge of your goal if that’s the case: instructors, bosses, coaches, teachers … you never know if they can give you extra advice or be your cheerleader when you need it most. It certainly beats suffering in silence. 

2. Take Time To Grieve Your Lost Dream 

I was going to say “take time to grieve your dead dream” but that sounds a little too morbid, even for me. However, it often feels morbid to know you could never have a chance at that dream again. And that’s okay. Because you’ve put a lot of work into that dream. You’ve done the planning, the research, perhaps the commuting for the training or practice. Maybe you’ve even spent money for classes or training. And it can feel like a part of you died if you didn’t succeed. Maybe you’ve spent weeks, months or even years on it! It sucks. And it’s okay to feel that way. Because while I’m not about to compare your life goal to your friend or family member, it does feel like you’ve lost someone. And that someone is a part of yourself. Because you’ve put your all into it. And it didn’t pan out. It is okay to grieve. 

If you can, try grieving in a healthy way. Spending all day playing a game like “Animal Crossing” for three months … is not exactly a healthy way. Numbing your sadness with fast-food and wine … is not a healthy way. Tweeting all day about it, can be healthy-ish to get it off your chest. Writing down how you feel in a diary? Even better. And again, therapy can help you get past it. Therapy never worked for me, but I don’t knock it. Guided meditations and self-hypnosis on YouTube is a great way to take a look into your subconscious and feel out your feelings. It’s how I got through my insomnia, and it’s how I sleep at night through guided talk down’s and hypnosis. 

And give yourself time

Grief looks different on everyone. Don’t feel bad if it takes you a long time to “get over it” about not succeeding your big goal. If it takes you a few months, that’s okay. If it only takes a few days, that’s okay too. Just try to have another goal you can work on in your back pocket so you can stay productive and healthy during your time of grief. But yeah, allow yourself time to heal. And, although I can’t lead by example on a healthy way to “get over it”, sometimes advice on what not to do is also a helpful perspective. 

So if you’re upset that Plan A didn’t work, try having a pet project you can work on to get your mind off of it. Be it an artistic goal, a creative project, a fitness goal, spiritual growth, learn a new language or skill … or something else. Sometimes staying busy can help get your mind off of it to move on. Just be sure not to burnout in the process of staying productive. I’ve done that before, too. 

3. Redefine Success and Failure 

Have you heard this one before? Only YOU can define what success means for you. Likewise, you get to define what failure means. Sometimes it can feel way more devastating than it really is. But, by redefining what it actually means, you can move past it. Like, if I redefine failing school …. I could look at it that perhaps medical coding wasn’t the right path for me after all. Just because I haven’t found the right career path for me, yet (although at age 37 is is starting to feel super discouraging), doesn’t mean I won’t ever be able to find a career that supports me and doesn’t make me feel worthless every day. Writing makes me feel meaningful, but I haven’t been able to make that my career – yet. 

Yet is a very powerful word! Try to use that in your mental chatter. Say to yourself: “I haven’t succeeded … yet.” It instills a sensation of hope, and hope is extremely powerful to get you through the day. Always look forward to the next sunrise! Hope is essential to get through the dark times. Like the grieving period of failure. Have hope. It is okay. You are okay. You are safe, loved and valued. Have hope. 

What does success mean to you? What does failure mean to you? Share in the comments below! The great thing about both success and failure is that it is different for everybody. And even for yourself: every day, ever week, every month; every year – you get to redefine both success and failure what it means to you during this season of your own life. No one but you gets to decide that. No one. You are okay. 

4. Thank Yourself For Trying 

One way to help get over the grief of the failed dream, is to thank yourself for trying. Sure, you may not ever get the same opportunity again: but you should thank yourself for at least going for it. So many people don’t even try, and that is a shame. 

Although the infamous Yoda quote: “Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try” at one point may have been motivating, the truth is … that kind of mentality can be toxic. Because perfectionism isn’t healthy. It IS good to try, even if you don’t do it right the first time. Or the first ten times. Or the first hundred times. Trying each time, is the name of the game. 

I actually had a manager use this former fave sci-fi quotes against me. At first I was excited for his geeky reference when he said in a Yoda voice “do or do not, there is no try”, feeling a sort of kindred for a fellow Star Wars fan. But when I wasn’t able to produce results at the ridiculous speed they were demanding (and I had only been there a week); he claimed I wasn’t trying, because the results weren’t produced. AKA, that I did not, AKA that I didn’t try. Although I had bruises on my arms from trying! So that’s what I mean that the quote can be toxic if used incorrectly. Sometimes you try and literally give it your everything, and the results just aren’t there. So you either have to have patience to improve, or find yourself a better situation. And yeah, I found myself a better situation and left that grocery store with the crazy speed demands. Because I’m a detailed person and it’s hard for me to produce details AND speed. But that’s a story for a different day. 

So thank yourself for trying and give yourself a pat on the back. Or better yet, give yourself a special treat for trying. A nice dinner, a spa day, a day off. Just something special just for you, to say to yourself: thank you me for investing in me! Because that’s what trying is: an investment. Be it an investment in time, energy or money … you should thank yourself for trying. And, also, a good way to do this is to write down what you learned. You don’t have to write a novel about it (although, you COULD) but you can journal about your experience and what you learned both intellectually and also what you learned about yourself during this experience. 

It’s okay. You tried. And that’s a very brave thing to do. 

5. Find a New Passion or Career Path

Passion fuels purpose. That’s a popular quote you may have heard before. But it bears a reminder in this situation. Because as a creative, we often have many ideas and projects running through our minds. Like a thousand, million internet tabs open inside our mind all at once. Being stuck in a dreadful state of mind from failing one big goal can get in the way of those other ideas. Or, if you were like me and trying to improve your situation for your day job, you might find yourself feeling defeated and worthless. And that isn’t the case. You are only stuck if you believe you are stuck.

For the career, find a new skill to improve or try to apply to other jobs. Sometimes you don’t need an entire new career path but rather a different job. After all, they say people don’t leave jobs but rather they leave bad managers. So by changing positions you can feel accomplished. I recommend if you are currently working, to stay where you are until you are hired elsewhere. But everyone’s situation is different, so trust your heart on what is the right move (or not to move) for you. 

For the creative, if you feel your goal failed or published art/novel failed, try working on another project to not only “stay busy” but to keep the passion alive. Because passion really does fuel purpose, and the more you use it the more creative you will feel. Even if it’s not a project you truly wish to be working on, you might be inspired for a different project along the way, and can switch project later.

I find this with writer’s block, because I personally find my “muse” to be a jealous thing. If I’m working on Project A because I’m stuck on Project B, Project B will become jealous of Project A and suddenly strike me with an idea. Then I will pause working on Project A and switch to Project B. So it’s kind of like using procrastination for you. You can procrastinate on Project A while inspired for Project B, and vise-versa. But play around with your project ideas and see what works for you. Every muse and inspiration process looks different for each person. And you are okay. You’re doing great. Just keep being creative. Because the world needs more of what you have to offer. The world needs more kindness. The world needs more creativity. And that starts with being kind to yourself. Just keep creating. You’re doing great.

6. Don’t Compare Your Progress 

Another cliche for you: comparison is the thief of joy. Is this true? I believe it is. One thing I’ve always been good at in the world of social media, especially with other authors, is to not feel jealousy. Now I am human. Sometimes I do wish I could be as good as them or have as many sales as they do. And while I was struggling in school, I wished I could catch on to the medical coding exercises as fast as the other kids in the class. But the truth was, I couldn’t. And yeah I might have felt bad a day about it, but I try not to let the feeling of jealousy or resentment linger on for too long.

I don’t like the feeling of jealousy or resentment. Shakespeare called it the green eyed monster. But for me it’s a monster that crawls under your skin. It feels icky and gross for lack of better terms. And I find it clouds my heart. I try to shake that off as fast as I can. Only rarely does it linger onward. Because I believe, that everyone has their own personal struggle. Their own personal torment. So just as I don’t compare my pain to others (like I don’t say to myself, it could be worse because I’m not suffering from x,y and z) I don’t also compare other’s success to my own. Because they have had their own personal hero’s journey to get to that point. And as I don’t know them, I don’t know what they have been though. So how could I compare myself to them if I don’t even know them? 

Similarly, one shouldn’t compare their journey with others. It’s not a very helpful feeling, even if it is human to do so. With the example of school, if you compare your grade with the highest grade in the class … it might leave you feeling stupid. It doesn’t mean you are stupid, but sometimes it makes you feel that way. Same thing with fitness goals. If you’re just starting out on your Yoga journey, and you watch a video of a girl on YouTube who has been crushing it for ten years, and think yourself it to be impossible or you could never do what she did … well, then you would be correct. Because if you think it’s never going to be possible, then it won’t be. 

Or if you think you suck at Yoga because you can’t do a complicated move like that girl who has been doing it for ten years, you might think you’re bad at Yoga. When in reality, you are just starting out. But who knows what you could do in ten years? Maybe you’re ten-year in the future self will be inspiration to someone else who is just starting. But you will never know if you try. And comparing yourself to those further along than you, while although very human to want to, it only just going to discourage you from trying your best at where you are at this moment in time. 

7. Disappointment is Okay 

Controversial opinion alert! But I believe it’s okay to feel disappointed once in a while. We can’t be happy-go-lucky all the time 24/7 or we could go crazy. And disappointment, believe it or not, can be helpful. Now I’m not talking about the kind of disappointment that your mother gives you … with the shake of her head and that look, but I’m talking about the disappointment you feel from your inner self. 

Why is self-disappointment healthy sometimes? Because it can show us how we really feel about a situation. 

For instance, when I didn’t pass the course back at the end of April, and I found out the May course was already filled up and there was no room for me to get in. I felt completely destroyed. But after some encouragement from my Twitter friends (Thank you Bek, James and others!) I did some soul-searching with a little clearer head. I used my disappointment as a tool, to see how I really felt about medical coding after I had this devastating blow of failing the final and the semester itself.

I used disappointment as a tool to see what EXACTLY I was disappointed about. Sure I was disappointed that I didn’t pass. But I thought deeper on it. I had a metamorphosis weekend on it.  And I came to the conclusion I wasn’t 100 disappointed about not being a medical coder. I realized what aspects of that career appealed to me so much, rather than the career itself. And it was being able to work remotely in my home office, have a higher pay grade and weekends off. And after some research, I discovered there were jobs out there that met that criteria. 

So if you use disappointment as a tool, you can really pin-point WHY you wanted the goal so badly in the first place. Sometimes it’s not always the goal itself that is important to us, but rather, certain aspects of the goal we find the most appealing. And sometimes we might just find resources we already have to get those aspects to create a feeling of fulfillment. 

Disappointment can be okay, because disappointment can be a tool to discover what you truly desire, not to sound like a certain crime solving devil. 

In Conclusion… 

So you have failed. It is okay. It is truly okay. Dust yourself up, take time to process what happened in a healthy way. Redefine what both success and failure mean to YOU, thank yourself for trying because trying is a very brave thing to do. Find another project to keep busy to help your mind not dwell on the failed goal. Don’t compare your progress to others or it might prevent you from trying or make you feel bad at your current progress. And finally, disappointment is okay because it can be a tool to find what exactly it is you really, really want out of the goal you were pursuing. 

So my friends, that is it! Yes, this was a long post. But I’ve been thinking about it a couple of months now. But when I fail, I shut down. And I gotta work on that. Part of it is my depression and anxiety, and part of it is that I’ve never been very good at the letting go process. But through mediation, journaling and just staying busy … I am working on it. I am, as we all are, truly a work in progress.

A lot of this post, and frankly this entire blog, is more of a cautionary tale. A do as I say, not as I do. Because sometimes by showing a bad example, it in itself can be good advice. 

I truly hope this helps, because feeling like a failure can be the worst. Please don’t spiral in it or dwell on it. And truly think about seeking help if it lingers more than a couple of weeks. Because reflecting on non-successes can be very helpful and healthy part of growth. But stewing in the sense of failure is awful and you deserve better. 

So thanks so much for joining me today. And I wish you the feeling of success in the future! Keep at it, you’re doing great! 

All the best,