What to Do When Failure Hits

June 30, 2020

Categories: Failure

The other day I received some disappointing news. A grant I had submitted and was excited about was NOT funded.

Grants are kind of a strange thing. When you get one, it’s awesome. A grant allows you to do research that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do because you have money to hire research assistants and pay participants.

But when you submit a grant and don’t get it, it’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing. Writing a grant is a ton of work. There are a few different stages. First, you have to write a letter of intent, which is a shorter description of your research project. Most letters of intent are rejected. If you are invited for a full proposal, then you have to write a long paper describing the background of your study and what you plan to do. You also have to jump through a lot of hoops like creating a budget, gathering paperwork from your co-investigators, etc.

All in all, I had been working on this grant proposal for several months. When a grant doesn’t get funded, you don’t have anything to show for it. It can feel like you did all that work for nothing.

Life Involves Success AND Failure

This is a lot like life. Life is full of ups and downs—successes and failures. No one bats a thousand. What do you do when you have a disappointment, when something you have been working for just doesn’t work out? I think there are two main options:

Wallow in Your Disappointment

One option is to wallow in your disappointment. You can see the failure as defining who you are (e.g., I’m bad at research). You can let the disappointing feelings get you down. You can stay down, and stop trying. You can let the disappointment defeat you.

Part of the Deal

I think the second option is to see failure and disappointment as part of the deal, a normal part of living life. The reality is that most grants don’t get funded, even if the project is good. It’s just a competitive thing. And this is true in a lot of areas of life. If you are pushing yourself and working at the edge of your abilities, trying to get better, you are going to experience some failure. The only way to avoid failure completely is to stay small and not push yourself out of your comfort zone.

When you see failure as part of the deal, you still feel disappointment, but the failure doesn’t define you. It’s just something that happened, and it’s okay. You can still get up the next day, dust yourself off, and move forward.


How do you feel when a failure hits? How do you deal with the disappointment that comes from failure?


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