All ambitious, driven professionals have a close, personal relationship with the concept of success. We strive to excel, we push ourselves to greater and greater heights, and many of us harbor a deep, unshakable fear of failure.
Whether we experience a “big” failure (like a firing or a massive work mistake that leads to disciplinary action) or a “small” failure (like forgetting to send a non-essential-but-still-important email), our high standards for our own performances can sometimes inflate our perception of these lapses, leading to compromised self-confidence.
For that reason, it’s worth considering whether we can (and should) reframe the concept of “failure” in our minds. Rather than thinking about mistakes and slip-ups as absolute negatives that must be avoided at all costs, it could prove beneficial to see failures as valuable learning experiences, from which we emerge stronger and more perceptive than ever before.
Before you start giving yourself a hard time for missing a minor deadline or jamming up the office copier, explore the possibility of embracing your own fallibility and using these experiences to bolster your determination and to launch yourself to higher echelons of success.
How do we define “failure”?
The trickiest aspect of “failure” is the fact that it has no singular definition. Different people interpret failure in different ways, and their methods of facing their mistakes and handling the fallouts are generally categorized as personal matters. In the workplace, however, “failure” often needs a more regimented set of criteria.
Good bosses and supervisors clearly communicate the standards of success to which they plan to hold their employees, and if workers fall short of these expectations, this result is frequently perceived as a failure by their bosses, their coworkers, and/or themselves. That’s why it’s so crucial for managers to make their reports abundantly aware of what they need to do to succeed in their roles and to regularly check in with these employees to catch any early problems and put plans in place that will yield the desired results.
What can failure teach us?
If we’re willing to directly face our errors and use them for the purpose of personal education, we can experience significant growth, both personally and professionally. The potential lessons derived from failures are infinite, but we’re offering up a few notable examples:
1. Failure hones our “Plan B” skills.
While it’s an understandable impulse to react to failure by withdrawing from a situation and wallowing in negative thoughts, most work-related situations don’t allow for that sort of insular recovery time. When deadlines and timely projects become involved, employees need to think quickly and come up with efficient and effective alternatives. Occasional failures can help you sharpen your on-the-spot problem solving, an invaluable skill in many workplaces.
2. Failure can help us pinpoint areas of improvement that we might otherwise miss.
Making a mistake at work always feels pretty lousy, but in the aftermath of an error, you may find yourself viewing your overall work performance in a new light and noticing possible weak spots (and ways to strengthen them) that might have slipped under the radar before. Self-awareness counts among the most valuable attributes for a successful professional, and if a job-related “oops” causes you to identify aspects of your job that could use tweaking and tightening, then you may emerge from the situation with a clearer perspective and a positive action plan for improvement.
3. Failure can reveal important realities about your workplace culture.
Of course, bosses shouldn’t be expected to coddle employees who make mistakes, especially when those errors recur. However, sensible managers realize that their reports are human beings, and that humans sometimes slip up and don’t accomplish what their supervisors expect. The way that your boss chooses to handle her employees’ shortcomings communicates a great deal about the company as a whole.
If your manager calls you in for a meeting and expresses her concerns and the negative outcome of your mistake in direct terms, but also focuses on how to fix the problem and prevent it from happening again, then that proves that you’re working for someone with a reasonable outlook. But if your manager instead tries to make the work-related failure into a reflection on your personal character and refuses to discuss consequences and future actions in a measured and realistic manner, then you’ll know that you work in an environment that lacks a logical perspective on mistakes, and you can act accordingly.
How can we use these lessons to fuel our future successes?
Viewing failure as a launching pad for improvements and an inspiration for upping your own work game helps us stay motivated and keeps us moving forward rather than falling into a pit of static discouragement. Need a bit of refocus assistance? Try these two strategies:
1. Give “routine failing” a whirl.
In a Forbes article about the importance of failure, executive coach Dr. Sam Collins tells readers that she “heartily recommends routine failing. It means you are actually active, doing something, moving forward. Too often, we buy into what society says, or what the past has shown us, will work or not work. When we do that, we limit ourselves, and we impede our ability to make big things happen.”
Instead of focusing on the reasons why we shouldn’t try something new for fear of failure, “we must take a leap, take calculated risks, and be patient for the results. We don’t need to have everything worked out beforehand. I never wrote a business plan, but in order to reach the next level in life, business, and my own personal growth, I had to take some risks.”
2. Remember that everything, including failure, is temporary.
Author Neel Burton of “The Art of Failure: The Anti Self-Help Guide” told HuffPost that failure can snap us out of a rut of projection, instead encouraging us to look at the here-and-now and see the value in more immediate actions and decisions. “Instead of living for the future, we begin to live for the present,” Burton says of the post-failure perks he most appreciates.