As the CFA is no ordinary set of exams, the high failure rates mean that there is significantly more disappointment than the average qualification. Also, CFA candidates tend to be overachievers - i.e. not used to failing.
This makes it even harder when it does happen. I had my own bittersweet experience in this once in Level II.
- Feel sorry for yourself for a while. It's normal and allowed, and you should go through this phase. You've put a lot of effort, so it would be absurd if you weren't disappointed. Allow yourself a week or so to mope.
- Pick yourself up, and realize that in the grand scheme of things this is just a blip in your path to greatdom. A useful trick I've learnt is to think of yourself 10 years ago, and at that age, what crisis were you going through that made it seem like the world was ending. Chances are your 'crisis' 10 years ago seems very silly to you today. That's how you'll look back on today 10 years from now, so really, it's not a big deal.
- In telling your friends, family and colleagues, the best way to approach it is straight up, frankly, and without shame. No one is going to belittle you or you any worse for not managing to pass one of the toughest professional qualifications there is. This time. Try not to brush it off as a small thing, or like you didn't care - normally it has the opposite effect to outside observers. Elicit respect.
- Analyze your results. Look at your results and see which Band were you in - Band 10 would mean you were closest to passing. Also remember that you can calculate a detailed breakdown to see how close you were to passing. Knowing how close you were is important in deciding how/when/if you want to retake.
- Properly decide if you're going to continue or give up. Personally, when I failed, I got raving mad and decided I wouldn't rest until I wholesomely kick this CFA level's ass. In my Weekly Poll a week or so back, an overwhelming majority of you voted that you would retake immediately, so I'm guessing you would lean towards this too. The good news is that if you register and retake immediately, revising again is going to be much easier than the previous time, so your chances are greatly improved!
If you've not passed this time around, don't beat yourself up too much. It happens to most of us, it's just that some of us prefer to pretend it didn't.