I failed. Parents hate hearing these two words.

You failed? Students hate the consequences that follow these two words.

In our society, there is a stigma attached to failure. When a child fails PSLE, his parents feel ashamed to even get out of their house, let alone bring their kid to their relatives’ house during Chinese New Year. When a student runs for an ex-co position and doesn’t get it, her fellow peers gossip and malign behind her back, especially if she isn’t that popular to begin with. Because of such a social climate, it is no wonder that people tie their self-worth to their ability. There is no room for error; there is no time to cut themselves some slack. Once they fail, it is the end of the world.

Or is it?

Although it may feel like it, failure is not the end of your world, and definitely not the end of the world. Here are 3 steps to help you cope with failure.

1. Be nourished by failure. It helps you to grow

You can’t fail if you are only doing stuff that you have already perfected, such as watching TV on the couch while getting spoon fed by your mum. The fact that you failed is a testament that you have stepped out of your comfort zone, and tried something that you weren’t good at. Good job!

Had you succeeded, it will be a sign that this thing is getting a bit too easy for you, and that it is time to move on to something more challenging. But most of the time we humans are lazy. We see that we have succeeded—going from being spoon fed to eating on our own—and we tell ourselves, good job, you have arrived. Then we spend the rest of our lives watching TV on the couch, proud that we can feed ourselves.

But when you fail, you hurt, like having a needle shoot out from the couch and pricking the most tender part of your butt. Ouch. This needle causes you to reflect. Where did this needle come from? Why did it suddenly appear? Has this needle been festering the whole time?

Have I been complacent in my studies? Was I not hardworking enough? Or was my goal too ambitious at the moment? Maybe I should improve myself more first before tackling this challenge again? Failure leads to reflection and reflection helps you to know where and how to improve. From this whole ordeal, you will emerge stronger, taller and wiser.

2. Wait! Make sure you learn from your mistakes.

The tendency for humans to go easy on themselves is so prevalent that it also applies to failure. Before you tell your parents that failure is unconditionally good and they should embrace every single failure of yours, let me qualify by saying, failure is good, so long as it does not become a habit. That’s right, every failure should be a new experience and from every failure, you must take away at least one lesson.

To illustrate this point, let me tell you a story.

One day, Billy the buffoon was walking past a travel agency when he saw a sign that said “Want to go on a cruise? Only $1,000! To be paid in cash”.

Billy the Buffoon thought to himself that a cruise would do his health good so he went to POSB, withdrew $1,000 and brought it to the travel agency. Right after he handed the travel agent the cash, he was knocked out cold.

He woke up floating on a barrel down Singapore river. Another guy floated past him and asked, “Do you know if meals are provided?” Billy the buffoon looked at him, smiled the smile of a seasoned veteran and told him, “Last year they didn’t provide any meals. This year should be no different.”

Are you going to be like Billy the buffoon who never learns? Because if you are, then scrape step 1. You are better off thinking that failure should be avoided at all cost.

3. Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo

If you, on the other end, exist on the other end of the spectrum and are too harsh with yourself, then know this: failure may be able to shape you and mould you, but it will never define you.

When a tree is fertilised, it is piled with dirt and filth. The compost may smell bad and look bad at that moment but eventually, the filth gets broken down into nutrients and helps the tree grow. The compost disappears and what remains is a taller and lusher tree. No one looks at the tree and goes, oh just 275 days ago, this tree was covered in shit and smelled like shit. Similarly, whatever is past is past. Do not live as if you are still living and breathing failure.

Life is a journey into the unknowns. Sometimes, you will see marvels and experience wonders. Other times, you may fall prey to misfortune or slip up so bad that you are just inches away from the edge of a cliff. However, all these moments are valuable. Years later, when you look back, you will identify these experiences as the moments when you grew teeth, gained muscles and sprouted wings – to journey the tough terrains of the earth.