Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
– Winston Churchill
Sarah, an experienced marketing executive and all-around go-getter, had always been driven to succeed in her professional life. But when she was overlooked for a promotion, her world came crashing down around her. She found herself questioning every big decision she had ever made at work, obsessively wondering where she had gone so wrong. Why wasn’t she offered the promotion? Was her work not good enough? Did her manager think she wasn’t performing as well as she could be? Her high levels of anxiety and self-doubt seeped into her work, and her productivity levels plummeted. She lost all confidence in her abilities, and she didn’t know how to move on.
Sarah’s experience will resonate with many of us. Just like Sarah, at one point or another, you’re likely to have felt disillusioned or disappointed as a result of an actual or perceived failure. Maybe you gave your all in an exam, a project, or a presentation, but the outcome didn’t meet your expectations – perhaps you’re a perfectionist who’s never satisfied with anything less than the best.
If things don’t go perfectly, how do you react? Perceptions of our failures can lead to vicious
cycles of stress and low self-esteem which can take a toll on our personal and professional lives.
How do you view failure?
- According to American psychologist Carol Dweck, before you do something that could open yourself up to the possibility of experiencing failure, you should always ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen?”. This is the best way to stop your fear of failure from preventing you from achieving your goals.
- For example, this technique could be used before a job interview. Instead of worrying that you might not give the best answers to the interviewer’s questions, you could stop these negative thoughts by asking yourself what the worst consequence of the interview not going as planned could be. It might be that you spend some time honing your interview skills, or perhaps you’d just have to wait a little longer until you saw a different role advertised that you felt really passionate about. Focus on the extreme possible consequences of ‘failing’, and build up your perspective from there – would it be justifiable to let these potential outcomes paralyse you with fear?
- After identifying the worst-case scenario, assess your ability to deal with that outcome by using all the resources you have at your disposal. For example, if the interview didn’t go as planned, you might spend some time working on your ability to answer questions under pressure. Work out what you would need to do in order to combat any potential setbacks.
- Consider the possible benefits of failing – just because there’s a possibility that a situation might not work out as planned, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able to benefit from it. Even if you were rejected at interview stage, this might prompt you to look at other sectors that interest you or even suit your expertise better. If you don’t get the job after all, perhaps it wasn’t the right job for you, and another opportunity would be a better fit for your personality and skill set.
These thought processes can reframe the way you view failure. Instead of seeing your failures as major setbacks, view them as learning opportunities that will help you grow and improve. Failure is an inevitable part of life, and although it can feel isolating, everyone experiences it time and time again in many different contexts. Adopting a positive outlook and taking constructive steps to help you manage your response to failure can help you make the most of the opportunity it presents. This can allow you to turn it into a foundation for personal and professional growth.
How to be resilient: 6 top tips
Resilience is an essential life skill that can enable us to rise above adversity and emerge even stronger. Being more resilient can help you respond to or manage failure better, as it can help you recover faster and more easily after experiencing a failure.
Jobs also battled pancreatic cancer and underwent a liver transplant, but he remained focused on his vision and continued to drive his company to new heights of success until his death in 2011. His ability to bounce back from failures and persevere in the face of adversity is a testament to his resilience as an inspirational leader.
- Prioritise your physical health: Eating well, getting enough sleep, and staying active can help you manage your stress levels and maintain a positive mental attitude.
- Take regular mental breaks: Be it through meditation, playing a musical instrument, or any other hobby, take mental breaks to recharge, reduce stress, and support your emotional wellbeing.
- Build a strong support network: Kindness, empathy, and social support can help us feel more grounded and better able to manage stress.
- Cultivate a positive mindset: Foster a positive outlook by examining your emotional responses to situations that challenge you. Embrace change and focus only on what you can control. Instead of feeling like a victim in the face of failure, take ownership of your thoughts, behaviours, and emotions.
- Practise risk-taking: Seek out challenges and new experiences that push you out of your comfort zone. This can help you develop new skills and build confidence in your ability to handle unexpected situations.
- Don’t give up: Maintaining your determination in the face of adversity is an integral part of building resilience. Quitting at the first sign of failure can undermine self-confidence and hinder growth. Instead, embrace challenges and persevere even when things get tough.
By implementing these strategies into your life, you can build resilience and maintain a strong sense of determination even when challenged. This positive, constructive outlook will enable you to view any failures as learning opportunities and catalysts for a better future.
American podcaster and motivational speaker Mel Robbins often uses her platform to address an extremely common yet debilitating fear that many of us share: the fear of failure. She aims to change how people view failure by promoting the idea that failure should not be viewed as a reflection of one’s abilities but as a natural outcome of trying new things and pushing oneself out of one’s comfort zone. She also emphasises that taking action, even if it leads to failure, is better than not taking action at all. In Robbins’ eyes, you can only achieve greatness by embracing the possibility of failure and taking risks that could result in failure.
7 strategies for successfully dealing with failure
Start your journey by following these 7 strategies:
- Be Realistic: Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and make it difficult to recover from failure. Therefore, although it’s important to dream big throughout your life, it’s also essential that you break up these aims into smaller goals that are more manageable and achievable. These will provide you with milestones to celebrate along the way.
- Don’t Take Failure Personally: Failure is not a reflection of your self-worth. It’s important to remind yourself that making mistakes is absolutely normal – we’re only human! You’re allowed to recognise that something has made you feel disappointed or upset, but after you’ve processed these emotions, it’s also important to be able to put them to one side.
- Accept Responsibility: Taking responsibility for your mistakes is a sign of maturity and shows that you’re willing to learn and grow from your own experiences. Blaming others or making excuses won’t help you move forward. So, take responsibility for your failures and view them as a chance to develop personally or professionally.
- Be Kind to Yourself: The importance of treating yourself with kindness and compassion cannot be overstated, especially during difficult times. Self-criticism and negative self-talk can make it harder to recover from failure, so don’t give yourself a hard time.
- Get Back on the Horse: Don’t give up after a failure – no matter how big or small. It’s important to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward.
- Grow From Your Mistakes: Failure can be a valuable learning occasion. Take the time to reflect on what went wrong and think about what you can do differently in the future.
- Release the Need for Approval: Fear of failure is often linked to a fear of being judged by others. However, it’s important to remember that other people’s opinions don’t define you. Focus on your own values and goals and concentrate on yourself.
A different tactic: partnering up for success - how collaboration can help you deal with failure
Facing failure at work can be daunting – perhaps a new project isn’t quite going according to plan, or a pitch to a potential client didn’t pan out how you’d expected it to. However, finding a colleague to work with can make all the difference. Here are 6 tips for successful collaboration in times of struggle:
- Complement each other: Share your experiences or current situation with a colleague who complements your skills and strengths, and vice versa. Together, you can make a much more powerful and effective team than if you deal with everything alone.
- Maintain a shared vision: While disagreements may arise when helping each other on a project, it’s crucial to maintain a similar vision and work towards the same results, staying focused and motivated.
- Trust your partner: Trust is crucial when working with a colleague, as you’ll be working together towards common goals and personal growth – you can’t micromanage each other.
- Learn from each other: When you experience failure, you haven’t really failed, you’ve received an opportunity to learn and grow – collaborating with a partner can expand and embed this learning process. Be open to each other’s ideas and feedback, and be willing to learn from each other’s mistakes.
- Hold each other accountable: When working with a colleague, it’s important to hold each other accountable for the results of your work together. This can help ensure that both of you are doing your best and contributing equally to the partnership.
- Celebrate successes together: When you do succeed, celebrate together! This can help strengthen your partnership and motivate you to continue working towards your goals. Experiencing success is brilliant, but sharing success with someone else is even better.
Collaborating with a partner can provide a new perspective on a situation you might be struggling with, and this teamwork can help you to generate ideas on how to improve in the future. Failure is a chance to learn, and working with a partner can only make the journey more meaningful and fulfilling.
Life is unpredictable, and we’ll all encounter setbacks and failures at some point in our journeys. However, how we respond to these challenges will determine our future success. If you normally feel defeated by failure, it is possible to turn your viewpoint around and begin seeing failure as an opportunity for growth and personal development.
As the saying goes, every failure comes with a lesson. It is these lessons that can provide us with the key to unlock our full potential. Those who are able to find the positive in these experiences can use them to their advantage. Instead of fearing failure, we must view it as a chance to try again to achieve success. By actually working towards it, we enable ourselves to become better versions of ourselves that can achieve our biggest goals and aspirations. It takes a lot of courage to accept failure, but it is the only way to truly learn from our mistakes and achieve the success we desire. Therefore, it is crucial to view failure not as a sign of incompetence or weakness but as a vital part of each and every one of our journeys. Embracing failure and committing to continuous learning can only help us progress throughout our careers and personal lives.
- Rachel Simmons, Everyone Fails. Here’s How to Pick Yourself Back Up, The New York Times.
- Storms Macfarlane, What doesn’t kill you … why failure is the secret to success, The Guardian.
- Frank Sonnenberg, How do you react to failure?.
- Susan Tardanico, Five Ways To Make Peace With Failure, Forbes.
- Mel Robbins, if you’re afraid to fail, WATCH THIS, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9pTjkXviT8
- Kevin Leyes, Fives Tips On Turning Failure Into Success, Forbes.
- John Elkington, With every failure comes a lesson, The Guardian.
- Peter Sims, Five of Steve Jobs’s Biggest Mistakes, Harvard Business Review.
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