Dealing with Discouragement

“Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”  (Dale Carnegie)

An old legend describes the devil prospering as a result of many global wars. Convinced of his victory and absolute superiority over humanity, he decided that he would take his ease by selling some of his armaments: gossip, greed, procrastination, lies, hatred, prejudice, and selfishness.  There was one weapon, however, that the devil refused to sell. “I will never sell discouragement,” he insisted! “If good times return and I want to reassert my business, all I have to do is use the power of discouragement to quickly pry open humanity’s fears and succeed once again.”

How do you deal with failure? Check out this Video Clip for wonderful advice from a young teenager.

From a review of current social indicators, it is obvious that the devil still owns and uses his most prized tool of warfare. According to the United States Office of Labor and Statistics, the number of unemployed persons (13.1 million) and the unemployment rate continue to trend downward. Included in the 8.3% of unemployed are 1.1 million “discouraged workers.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines a “discouraged worker” as someone who is not actively seeking employment because they believe that any effort to do so would be fruitless. They are individuals who are willing and able to engage in productive activities, but, due to their overwhelming lack of success, have stopped seeking a job.  Discouraged workers fall within the broader societal category of the marginally attached.

The unemployed are not the only victims of such personal and professional marginality. Being a teacher in our nation’s schools can also be discouraging – especially when our instructional initiatives are not producing the anticipated results. Discouragement is the primary culprit that convinces teachers to quit when the going gets tough. It makes them feel downhearted, blue and defeated. Fear of failure, slow results, and unsupportive friends and coworkers so dispirit many educators that they simply give up on their vision and quit! Fortunately, some successfully overcome the marginalizing effects of discouragement by learning how to manage it – intellectually, emotionally, and professionally!

In his book, Failing Forward (2000), leadership expert John Maxwell insists that social, economic, and personal failures do not have to lead to discouragement. They do not have to be understood as a consequence of the devil’s favorite tool. On the contrary, if properly understood, failure can actually become a stepping-stone to future success. It all depends on how failure is viewed!  Do we accept responsibility for our flops or do we seek to blame others? Do we become angry and jealous or do we learn from disappointment? Do we grow wiser or do our failures make us bitter and callous?

The terrible truth is that all roads to achievement lead through the valley of disappointment. The question then is not how to avoid failure but to circumvent the deadly mire of its discouraging effects. Maxwell outlines 15 steps to turning mistakes into stepping-stones for success:

  1.                   Realize there is a major difference between average people and achieving people
  2.                   Learn a new definition of failure
  3.                   Remove the “you” from failure
  4.                   Take action and reduce your fear
  5.                   Change your response to failure by accepting responsibility
  6.                   Don’t let failure from outside get inside you
  7.                   Say good-bye to yesterday
  8.                   Change yourself and your world changes
  9.                   Get over yourself and start giving yourself
  10.                   Find the benefit in every bad experience
  11.                   If at first you do succeed, try something harder
  12.                   Learn from a bad experience and make it a good experience
  13.                   Work on the weakness that weakens you
  14.                   Understand there’s not much difference between failure and success
  15.                   Get up, get over it, and get going

Discouragement is the act or the state of being depressed. It is the weakening of confidence that deters us from an undertaking. The manner in which teachers and leaders of professional learning communities manage discouraging events, therefore, distinctly demonstrates their character. It reveals the condition of their core convictions.

Tragically, many teachers surrender their vision too quickly. Just when success is reachable, they just give up. One of the valuable tactics that we can use to sidestep the danger of such debilitating thoughts is to focus on performance instead of outcome related goals. In so doing, educators can tap into their fears and use them as the fuel of determination and the force of creativity.

Without failure our opportunity to develop is limited. Without the possibility of flops and missteps teachers and educational leaders become lazy and complacent. Convictions of character, however, cannot effectively mature in such ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial, suffering and disappointment can the core of an individual be strengthened, vision sharpened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Like the young baseball player in the video clip above, the major difference between average and successful people is their perception of and response to their weaknesses and failures. Their secret to moving beyond their mistakes is their ability to use them as opportunities, as life’s classrooms for personal growth, learning and maturity. When properly recognized for what they are, positive benefits can actually accompany negative experiences. When used as a stepping stone, failure does not have to lead to discouragement but to learning, personal development and professional success.

Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS Educational Consulting. He received a Doctors Degree in Adult Education (Ed.D.) from NOVA Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and a Doctorate in Ministry and Childhood Education (D.Min.) from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX).

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