A lawyer I have known for many years and whom I admire, recently received a defense verdict after a four-week trial. His pain over the phone in talking to me was understandably palpable. I was thought about what Adlai Stephenson said when he was asked how he felt after losing his run for presidency of the United States. He said “I was reminded of a story that Abraham Lincoln used to tell. He was asked how he felt once, after an unsuccessful election attempt. He replied that he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark and reported that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”
I have written several times in this blog about dealing with failure as a plaintiff’s attorney in trying cases for our clients. We know that with the exception of a rare few, there is no way to get around it: if you try cases for living you will lose some. Of course there is more than one way to lose a case. There are cases where the verdict is less than the offer and there are cases where there is a defense verdict. And, here are cases where the verdict should have been considerably more than what was obtained. Remember the apocryphal story about the lawyer who was bragging about his $1 million verdict when exasperated friend finally said to him: “Bill, I’ll how to get a $1 million verdict like yours.” His friends said “How?” The response was “Just have a $5 million case like the one you tried.” However the loss, it still hurts.
Winston Churchill said ” Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts ” Theodore Roosevelt echoed that thought when he said: “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” So, what are the ways in which we might consider dealing with the pain of failure? Here are some:
- Resist the need for approval of others. Very often the pain of our failure is really rooted in our ego as it relates to not wanting to be judged by others or losing there esteem. We are too easily influenced by what other people say or think about us and our performance. Giving our power away to others by allowing them to determine how we feel about ourselves is a serious mistake.
- Adjust your point of view. How we frame the situation determines our attitude. Mistakes and failure are rarely as bad as they seem at the time. This is not the end of the world even though it may be painful now. Adopting a new attitude is one of the best things you can do to shift your perspective and belief system. Reframe your view and embrace a positive association of learning from the experience. Every great accomplishment and every great person has had failure which propelled them in some way to a higher level of success. Michael Jordan once pointed out: “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I’ve been entrusted to take the game-winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I was able to succeed.” There are numerous examples of great people who overcame painful failure.
- Neural linguistic programming teaches that there is no such thing as failure, only useful feedback. When our carefully laid plans have not gone as we wanted, we think we had failed. In fact we need to know whether we are on the right path and feedback tells us the answer. By failure we learn to overcome obstacles. There is a clear difference in thinking about our experiences as either feedback failure. Take stock, learn and adapt.
William Ernest Henley in his poem Invictus wrote the great lines :
“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul. in the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. under the bludgeoning of chance my head is bloody, but unbowed.”
After a reasonable mourning period, we need to pick ourselves up and move ahead with renewed determination as well as wisdom from the experience. In John Dryden’s poem Johnnie Armstrong last good night he writes: “Fight on my merry men all, I’m a little wounded, but I’m not slain. I will lay me down for to bleed a while, then all rise and fight with you again.” Rise up, pull yourself together and renew the battle with wisdom from the experience you have not had before. Be strong and fight on.