Building Confidence: 4 Ways to Recover After Failure

By Wheeler del Torro

Join expert Chef Wheeler del Torro on Thursday, November 2nd, 1:00PM-2:30PM for Graduate Professional Series: Building Confidence.

For college students, failure can seem like the end of the world: embarrassment in front of your peers, exposure for your lack of knowledge, a missed opportunity, fear for your ability to graduate, and so on. Nobody wants to fail in something they have put in their time and effort into, especially when it is in full view of other people. As with any other time life, failing in college aims a severe blow to one’s thought process. It is normal to spend hours and even days reliving the events that led up to the failure and worrying about what will come next. A major failure can be a life-changing event and for many people, the memory of which lives on for a long time after. While this is a burden in itself, the person who is going through it must build up the courage to face it. Here are 4 ways to build self-confidence in college students after they have failed at something, large or small.

Pick Over the Pieces
A common desire in the wake of a disappointment is to turn back time. It might take a day or two for the cold, hard truth to set in: what has happened is now filed away in the history of time. After you have overcome the shock of failure or, at least, gotten familiar with how things have turned out, take some time off your routine to identify what you can learn from the experience. While the process of analyzing your own life may be painful because it may require judging yourself, it is a reflection of emotional maturity. Not only that, it is a reflection of cognitive maturity as well. According to the Harvard Business Review, “Even without meaning to, we all favor evidence that supports our existing beliefs rather than alternative explanations. We also tend to downplay our responsibility and place undue blame on external or situational factors when we fail.”[1] If you can succeed in identifying why the failure took place, it will be easier to spot a pattern of behavior and when something similar is about to happen.

Put the Failure into Context
The failure you experienced might have dire consequences on the next step of your life as you had planned it. You may even be required to re-strategize your life’s plan, which may take up a significant amount of time and resources. Regardless of the changes you need to make to put your life back on track, it is important to realize that this one incident does not define your whole life. Whether you have failed a course or received a rejection letter from your dream internship, but there are many other avenues in which you can excel. This is easy to say but true: a failure in one moment of life is not directly related to current intelligence or future success. When in need of a pep talk, remember the wise words of Denis Waitley: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

Improve Your Strengths
A proven remedy for getting over low self-confidence is building capacity in areas in which you have failed. This will be easy to do if the failure was brought about by tangible factors: a failure to prepare adequately for an exam, lack of practice, or even lack of proper equipment. With this assessment and adjustment, you are in a better position to improve and, with that, to reclaim your self-confidence. What is arguably even more effective than improving your weaknesses, though, is building on your strengths. According to Forbes, “research suggests that the most successful people start with a dominant talent and then add skills, knowledge, and practice into the mix.”[2] This is helpful in settings personal goals based on your individual abilities.

Minimize Your Chances of Failure
For most people, failure indicates that there are things wrong in their life. The best lesson you can take from failure is the direction in which your life needs to take. To make this move, which is fundamental in rebuilding your self-confidence, you may need to ask yourself deeper questions that look deeply into career choice, choice of friends, choice of leisure activities, and choice of family relations. Do you think that each of these areas is within your standards as an individual? Know yourself first, and only when you have learned to appreciate yourself will you devise strategies that will guard against future failure. Such steps, as you will realize with time, involve taking small strides at the beginning but outstretching your abilities with time. Every time you try something new, you will find even more fulfillment if you put in a little bit more effort than needed.

Does it bother you that some people are ever confident when you are not? While there are people who appear to have been born confident, this is a character trait that must be nurtured. To walk faithfully towards your goal, consider having a coach or accountability partner who will be your support and inspiration. It is normal to get scared of the future when you fail, but you can use this as a stepping stone to greatness. Mastering your fear will permeate into other areas of your life and, within no time, you will regain control of your life and how you react to your surroundings; this is self-confidence!

Wheeler del Torro is a nutritional anthropologist, entrepreneurial author, consultant and speaker. He has made a name for himself as a professional chef, starting his career by hosting pop-ups and dinner parties, which led to investing in small companies. He currently spends his time traveling around the globe to host pop-up restaurants and workshops on how to start a business. He wants to educate entrepreneurs on all aspects of starting a business, from conceiving an idea to gain funding.

[1] Edmondson, A.C. (2011). “Strategies for learning from failure”. The Harvard Business Review.
[2] Tardanico, S. (2011). “Stop worrying about your weaknesses. Focus on your strengths.” Forbes.