Life is full of ups and downs, but sometimes, you get stuck. You don’t feel like you’re moving anywhere, and you can’t figure out how to climb out of a rut and start to fulfill your dreams. In some cases, you may even find that you’ve lost any sense of ambition and go through the motions every day simply because it’s your only option.

If you’ve lost hope or feel trapped in your own life, you aren’t alone. Failure is inevitable, but many people lack the necessary skills to progress beyond unfulfillment. It’s natural to take failure personally, but instead of viewing failure as an opportunity to learn and improve, people consider it a mark of their own value and give up trying.

The 3 Stages of Failure in Life and Work (And How to Fix Them) - Work, vision, tactics, strategy, stage, life, failure

James Clear, an author and entrepreneur, wrote a blog post that outlined three stages of failure in life and work. Through the exploration of these three stages, Clear offers an empathetic but pragmatic view to failure that can help shape someone’s perspective and encourage them to try again.

The three stages of failure outlined by Clear are:

– Failure of tactics

– Failure of strategy

– Failure of vision

This triad of failures are organized in a hierarchical structure. While Clear reads the pyramid from top to bottom, I prefer the reverse approach, starting with vision.

Without a clear vision, you can’t develop a strategy. With a poor strategy, you can’t refine tactics that improve your original vision. Failure in these three areas can be identified in any aspect of a person’s career or life, from the promotion they’ve been passed on for the third time or a marriage that’s begun to deteriorate.

Understanding and recognizing these three failures in your own life will equip you with the skills you need to make positive changes, become more optimistic and get more comfortable with failure, knowing that it’s not a permanent state but a transient period.

The First Stage: Failure of Vision

Why do you do what you do? You might say because it’s your job, but why is your job your job? Without a clear vision, people lack purpose. Without purpose, they lack motivation.

Ambition is often marketed as this intrinsic drive only the most successful people yield. If you aren’t one of the natural lucky ones, you’re doomed to go through the motions day-in, day-out, never able to muster up the willpower it takes to achieve your goals.

I have news for you. Ambition isn’t born. It’s created. You have to acknowledge that you have none before you can make any improvements. Take a look at your current job, relationship or any situation that bothers you and ask why it’s not working.

How to Fix a Failure of Vision

Be honest with yourself. Are you happy? If not, why? Is the problem your boss, your pay or the fact you’re doing something you couldn’t care less about? If you’ve lost interest in something you once loved, what’s the reason?

In order to overcome your failure of vision, you have to lose your fear of honesty. It’s scary to admit something so closely linked to our identity isn’t a good fit. We’re left asking, “Who am I?”

Don’t be afraid to ask that. Challenge your identity, and consider who you want to become. Build your vision around that, and understand that sacrifice and change are necessary for growth.

The Second Stage: Failure of Strategy

How many times have you asked yourself, “How can I get more than this?” when you think about your life? Strategy is about trial and error. Many people think that if they work really hard and give something their all, it’s bound to succeed. Unfortunately, even the most valiant efforts won’t always pay off.

Whether it’s a relationship that just can’t feel like it used to or a business that won’t grow, failure of strategy sets you up to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. With every unsuccessful attempt, you feel less capable, less hopeful and, ultimately, want to give up.

How to Fix a Failure of Strategy

The only way to know if something will work or not is to try it out and measure the results. I’m not encouraging you to be reckless, but I am encouraging you to start putting your ideas into action even if you aren’t 100-percent sure they’ll pay-off. Abandon the belief that you have to know something will work for certain before you can do it.

If you want to go back to school, apply. You may be accepted, you may not. If you’re a student, buy the textbooks and get ready for the next semester even if you don’t know what job you’ll have after you graduate.

You can always sell textbooks later. You can always refine your strategy and adapt your actions to yield better results. You only become capable of making better decisions when you have gained the valuable mistakes that gave you wisdom.

The Third Stage: Failure of Tactics

Last but not least, a failure of tactics will prevent you from progressing in life or advancing in your career. Consider the textbooks from the last stage. If you have bought them but you don’t read them, what’s their use? Do you let them sit on your shelf collecting dust? Do you convince yourself you’ll need them for a later date? Or do you sell textbooks for some profit and move on to the next stage in your education?

Failure of tactics will keep you stuck in the same situation, unable to improve or grow because you don’t know how to properly manage your time, emotions or other valuable resources.

How to Fix a Failure of Tactics

The textbook analogy applies to work and life. Develop a system for things and you’ll learn how to achieve everything you want. A system has to be fixed but flexible. Every semester, buy your books. Use them. Study hard. Sell, and repeat. Sometimes, you may study less. Others, you may keep instead of sell, or lend a book to a friend instead of giving it back to the shop.

Either way, you learn that in order to succeed, you need a plan that will give you confidence and security even when you aren’t sure of the final outcome.


It’s cliche, but you really have to believe in yourself. You don’t need your life figured out to know that you have what it takes to see things through. Sometimes, we aren’t as lost as we think. We just need to change our thoughts, adjust our behavior and change our approach to improve our outcomes and get back on track.