How To Thrive When You Fail

If youíre on†my mailing list or follow me on†Facebook or†Twitter, you know that I recently launched a new program I called Inner Pilot Light group coaching.† Launching this program was a big risk for me. Not only was it to be a live program, when all the other programs Iíve launched have been virtual, but it was a full-on spiritual program. No white coat to hide behind. No business coaching meant to help people earn more money that might lure in clients. Just me, my sermons, Inner Pilot Light wisdom, and a tribe of people who are trying, like me, to live in the light.

I was terrified, but thrilled beyond description. I canít remember ever feeling so giddy about a launch. I literally didnít sleep the night before.

Calling In The Clients

The day of the launch was a glorious, sunny day, the kind of summer day we only see in San Francisco after summer has officially ended. I marked the day by hiking early in the morning to the zen garden in Green Gulch Zen Center, where I performed a little ceremony to call in the people who would join me for this program. There were chimes. And drums. And incense. It was very ďwoo woo.Ē

Then, ritual performed, people called in, I went back to work, hoping the program would fill. By the time I got back from the zen center, four people had registered. I was hopeful.

But it was false hope.† The deadline for registrations came and went and only a handful of people signed up for the live program that would have accommodated up to 80 people in the sanctuary I had rented. A few more signed up to participate virtually, but not enough to make the program financially viable, given the hefty investment I would have to make in renting a space and hiring a videographer to stream the live event.

I was heartbroken. I had to write letters to the few people who had signed up for the program and break the news that I was cancelling the program. Yes, there were tears involved.

Have You Failed At Something That Mattered To You?

The emotions that ran through me when I realized the program had failed were complicated.† I felt disappointed. I felt embarrassed. I felt sad. I felt ashamed. I felt rejected. I questioned my worth. The Gremlin was going ballistic, chattering away with mean-spirited digs at my self-esteem. My ego (who I call Victoria Rochester) was hiding under the bed. I felt like I never wanted to launch another program again. In fact, maybe I should just stop blogging and go get a real job, one that doesnít require me to take so many risks.

The downward spiral had begun.

Perhaps youíve had something similar happen.† You put yourself out there on a limb.† You ask out the object of your affection.† You try to get a book published.† You share something vulnerable with a new friend. You launch a program. You apply to the most elite college.† You write a letter to the birth mother youíve never met.

And then you fail. She says no. The publishers reject your book. The friend betrays you. The program bombs. The college sends you the skinny letter. Your birth mother doesnít want to meet you.

If youíre not careful, the Gremlin can get so nasty youíll wind up reluctant to ever take a risk again.† You erect walls. You avoid risk. You play it safe, because it hurts too much to fail.

But it doesnít have to go down this way. Hereís how I handle situations like this.

Try letting your Gremlin go nuts. Then invite your Inner Pilot Light to tell you the truth.

My inner dialogue goes something like this.

The Showdown

The Gremlin: Who did you think you were anyway, trying to pose as some spiritual teacher, when youíre just fumbling along like everyone else? No wonder nobody signed up. I wouldnít trust you to guide me spiritually either.

Inner Pilot Light: Oh Gremlin, Gremlin, GremlinÖ must you always be so unkind? Canít you just be proud of her for trying something new, for following her heart, for being brave? So what if it didnít work out? Itís not because she wouldnít have done a good job leading people spiritually in her own fumbling way. Maybe itís just not meant to be.

The Gremlin (plugging ears):† I canít hear you Inner Pilot Light. Lissa, maybe youíve had a few successes lately, but they were just flukes. This proves what you really know Ė that youíre not like those other people who did this kind of work. Youíre not one of them.† Youíre just some cheap wanna-be. If you were the real deal, people would have signed up.† Youíre just a fraud. You should just go back to the hospital and deliver babies or perform surgeries. At least youíre a real doctor. That way you can earn some reliable money and take care of your family in a grown-up way, rather than trying to make a living with these pie-in-the-sky ideas.

Inner Pilot Light: Donít listen, Lissa. Itís not true. Donít take this personally. Remember, when things are meant to happen, theyíre easy. They flow. The clients show up. You get signs that youíre on the right path. When itís not easy, itís not because youíre not valuable, itís because youíre supposed to go left, when you wanted to go right. Or itís because the timing isnít right. Maybe youíre meant to launch this program next fall. Or maybe youíre supposed to be freed up this fall so you can work on your next book. I canít say why people didnít show up, but I can say this. Donít let this fumble keep you from daring to dream, from taking risks, or from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.† Trust me, youíre valuable. You matter, whether or not people sign up for your programs.

Finding Peace After Disappointment

And just like that, I started to bounce back. As†Brenť Brown writes in her wonderful new book†Daring Greatly, ďShame resilience is the ability to say ĎThis hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not the values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.Ē

You can move on, Gremlin. My value is courage. And I was just courageous. And I vow to keep being courageous, even if it means future failure and disappointment.

When I wrote to my friend and art mentor†Nicholas Wilton and told him that my program had failed, he wrote this in response:

I have told myself, as well as my daughters growing up, that when faced with a missed cue, a setback when youíre used to winning, itís an opportunity for remembering about humility. A little air letting out of the ego balloon is not a bad thing. It makes you a better listener, and it allows you to relate and help others when they come to you for support regarding the same kinds of let downs in their own lives.

A few days earlier, right after I got off stage speaking at a big conference, Nick had confessed his own failure to me. He had been paid to get up on stage and give a speech, and when he got up there, he realized that he had lost his speech notes.† Right there in the spotlight, every word he planned to say escaped him. He stood there in front of thousands of people in total silence for over five minutes before getting his act together and finding his voice. When he got off stage, the audience showered him with compassion. They realized that it takes guts to get up on stage in the first place, and they appreciated his bravery more than they judged his failure.

Nick is right.† Winning is not the goal. Sometimes the soulís journey is to learn to fail well and to grow in compassion for others who face the inevitable disappointments in life.

And so, my friends, I decided to share this story with you. I donít want you to think Iím perfect or that I always succeed. And I donít expect that of you either. Within our imperfections and failures lies true intimacy, and I value that more.

So tell me, can you relate to my story? Have you tried and failed? Have you felt disappointed? Are you able to be kind to yourself when you do?

Bouncing back and feeling optimistic about whateverís next,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities† and†, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013),†TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary.†Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on†Twitter and†Facebook.



Bonnie Helterhoff

I applaud you for being brave and daring to try what felt right. If I lived where you are, I probably would have come- but I live in TX so not possible. I understand that YOU can do the online/call in type of thing but had absolutely no faith in ME being able to do it. So I think perhaps the shape and form need to change a bit. But what you are saying is wonderful and powerful. I quit my job in June at 65 and not yet financially "ready" to retire- but it was killing my soul and literally making me ill. I want to suceed as an artist in creating miniatures- not the most popular of fields... And I BELIEVE that it will happen. or some form of my dream. I no longer hate to get up in the morning and am excited about what the day may bring. Having cheerleaders like you on the sidelines can only help- so I truly hope you succeed and continue to do what you do so well.
Our society has placed far to great a value on paychecks and titles and ignored the needs of our souls for growth and joy. And the outcome is horrendous violence and disabling amounts of fear. It's time that we try to find a way to bring the joy back into our lives- that people can be fulfilled doing things they love. I agree with you totally. Do NOT give up!!

Rosie Jolliffe
Rosie Lopez5 years ago

awesome thank u!