How To Deal With Failure

“Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s an essential part of success.” Steve Pavlina

Failure and I are well acquainted. My CV paints a portrait of a successful young career woman who’s worked on multiple continents job hopping with ease through the non-profit sector. The reality is very different. For every opportunity I’ve had, I’ve been rejected from many more. I could paper the walls with the rejection letters or worse, the deafening silence of disinterest from potential opportunities.  I’ve done dozens of interviews & only a handful have been successful. & in some ways, that stuff is easy to manage. Mass rejection looses the potency of individual barbs, at least it does for me.

What really stings are the jobs I’ve gotton and screwed up. The people I’ve let down, the relationships that have soured and the opportunities that have withered on the vine.

That time I burnt out before completing a job and spent the last week of my contract in bed trying to recover. There was also a bottle of wine, a tub of ice-cream and an overly-emotional rant to a colleague.

That time I quit 2 days before the project launched because I just couldn’t get on with a sub-par manager. My mistake was taking on something before really getting what it was. I hurt people.

That time I flew to Malaysia on an all expenses paid trip and then mis-read my flight details and got stuck there. It cost me a fair whack to get home.

That time I spent money (lots of money) on a training program that I won’t ever complete.

Living with failure is key to success. I’m still learning, but here’s what works for me.

How I Manage Failure

  • Learn the lesson. If you keep making the same mistake, learn it over and over.
  • Apologize if you need to, but don’t continually beat yourself up about it.
  • Don’t allow the occasional screw-up derail your confidence.
  • Get the work support you need. Talk to your manager or HR person. If you need to, hire a coach to figure out how to do it better.
  • Rather than feeling bad about your failures, embrace them. They are war wounds that show how fully you live life. 
Maintain perspective. Nobody died. Life will go on. Time will heal, provided you don’t use that time to beat yourself up about it!
  • Do something for someone else. The surest way to feel better about yourself is to do something for someone else.
  • Failure is feedback in a crappy outfit. (at least sometimes!)
  • Don’t get mad, get curious.
  • Treat failure as motivation. For me, failure spurs me on to prove myself even more. It propels me to get better at what I do, clearer about how I talk about it and prouder of the value I deliver.

It comes down to this: There is no job I didn’t get that I regret. There is no gamble I took (whether it paid off or not) that I regret. In every screw up, there are important lessons. Lessons that are infinitely more valuable that the embarrassment, financial cost or inconvenience of the failure. I’m not saying it doesn’t stink. It does. I’m saying it’s worthwhile.

Regular failure means you’re pushing yourself enough to achieve. If you haven’t failed in a while, it might be time to take a leap.

How do you deal with failure?

EXTRAS FOR EXPERTS:
J.K. Rowling’s speech on the fringe benefits of failure is a must-watch.
Why Guilt May Signal Leadership Potential (thanks to Anamaria for the link)

(image source)

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