How to Keep Failure From Ruining Your Day

Recently I slept through my alarm and missed a flight.

If I’d spent time to think about it rationally, I would have realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. I would get a flight out later in the day. but I’d barely gotten any sleep the night before, and it was an important day, and 4am is a time to day it feels hard to think rationally.

photo: Dog Mom of Five, Creative Commons
photo: Dog Mom of Five, Creative Commons

I scrambled to put my clothes on, threw my remaining things in my suitcase, and begged my husband to speed me off to the airport, but it was no use. We knew before we even got in the car that I wasn’t going to make it. And by the time we arrived at the terminal, I was in tears. My flight had already taken off.

I was upset for a variety of reasons.

I’d had the morning all planned out in my mind, first of all—how I was going to get my tea and sit peacefully at the gate and be in “Zone 1,” one of the first people on the plane. I felt so sad and immature, sleeping through my alarm clock like I was in high school again.

I worried about how much money it would cost to change the flight and felt panicked that I wouldn’t make it to my destination on time.

I felt like a total failure.

And yet, before I got out of the car, my husband grabbed by hand and looked me right in the eye and said, in his usual, nothing-phases-me voice, “Hey, you’re okay. It’s over. You’re still going to make it to your destination. Don’t let this ruin your day.”

I nodded, just praying I could actually take his advice.

I headed straight for the Delta counter and told them what had happened and they were quick to remedy the situation. They switched my flight and got me onto a flight that would land me in my destination with a minimal delay. I got through security in record time, walked to the bathroom and brushed my hair and my teeth (since I hadn’t had a chance to do that before I left the house).

That’s when I realized I had a choice to make.

My circumstances had changed. They were better. The problem had been fixed. Literally no one knew about my apparent “failure” except me and my husband. But it was like my ability to feel sadness and discouragement and shame was so learned, it was so easy for me to “get there,” that my mind and heart and spirit went there anyway.

I think of it like ski tracks going down a mountain. When the track has been made by a dozen previous runs, it’s hard to take a different path.

You get stuck (quite literally) in your own rut.

I thought about what Darrell had said.

“It’s over. Don’t let this ruin your day.”

And I thought about what my friend Mike said when he spoke at a conference recently. He said, “Just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake. Just because you failed doesn’t mean you’re a failure.”

And so instead of letting my skis point in the direction of the previous path, I chose to go a different route. It takes more strength to ski down brand new snow—you have to carve a new way—but the only other option is to keep going down that same sad, discouraging track over and over again.

And I just decided I didn’t want to do that.

I just decided I wanted that to change. So I reminded myself of a few things I knew for sure. I’m not a failure. People make mistakes. What feels like a “crisis” is rarely as tragic as it seems. I told myself not to cry. Crying wasn’t going to help anything, and there was no need. No need to be sad, no need to feel discouraged.

And just like that, my pattern changed.

Just like that, I felt the day come back, my mental clarity come back, my mood return to something resembling normal and stable.

That makes it sound easier than it was.

For the rest of the day, I was fighting that old, learned rut in the snow. I had to admit I was overreacting, that my feelings were unreliable, and that they were lying to me about the reality of this particular situation. I had to remind myself, over and over, that everything was going to be okay.

But I did it. And after you ski down a slope once, it becomes more likely you’ll land in that rut later.

Who knows. After awhile, perhaps it will even become easy.


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Allison Fallon

I write books. I help people write books. I believe a regular practice of writing can change your life.

22 thoughts on “How to Keep Failure From Ruining Your Day”

  1. hi Ally. you spoke right into my no-good-getting-rotten-wish-I-stayed-in-bed day. thank you. your recent posts have been so insightful into how our thinking patterns hold us hostage. i appreciate you speaking truth and reminding me not to let those feelings win.

  2. “It takes more strength to ski down brand new snow—you have to carve a new way—but the only other option is to keep going down that same sad, discouraging track over and over again.”

    Bam! Thanks for this. Great picture.

  3. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story! I am going to read it today in a support group that I lead and use it as an opening discussion. I am anticipating a great response and conversation. Thanks again!

  4. I love your words, “I’m not a failure. People make mistakes. What feels like a “crisis” is rarely as tragic as it seems.”

    What a beautiful way to turn things around. 😉

  5. This perfectly describes me and my fiance. It’s so easy to let the little things break me down. So good to have someone reminding you about the power we have in ourselves to overcome our own attitudes.

  6. I wouldn’t call oversleeping a failure. That is definitely not a good feeling, though, when you gently come out of your sleep and either hear the alarm for the first time or glance over at the clock and have that sudden realization that you’ve overslept. That sudden rush of adrenaline is just so unnatural at that time of the morning. What I see here is also a picture of how a husband and wife balance each other out. My wife is more high strung and I’m more of the “nothing phases me” type. If we were both one or the other there’d be issues with that. Glad you still made it and were able to put it behind you and move on.

  7. “But it was like my ability to feel sadness and discouragement and shame was so learned, it was so easy for me to “get there,” that my mind and heart and spirit went there anyway. ”

    Are we sisters from another mother?

  8. Allison,
    Your word picture of skiing will stay with me. I have been in the same rut for years.
    Not a healthy hill of snow.
    It is time to point in a different direction.
    Thank you.

  9. I was reading back in my journal the other day and I read “shame occurs when you take responsibility for something you think you have failed at” and it helped me to begin to break out of the rut you talk about here that you fall in when you have made a mistake. I realised again with Gods help that I hadnt failed in the way my accuser was saying, and also that I didnt have to take responsibilty for some stuff either. But its hard when you have learned over years to be sooo hard to yourself. Its an illness.

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