Failure Isn't The End, It's The Beginning

February 25, 2020


Which is better for your career: never failing, or failing fairly often and using lessons learned to your advantage? The title of this piece likely gives away the answer we favor here. Never failing often means never trying new things, never being innovative and never exploring outside your comfort zone. Looking at failure this way illustrates why failure is actually good for your career.

Benefits of Failure

Let’s face it; intelligent risk-taking is necessary for personal growth and career advancement. True innovation may sometimes involve a leap of faith. However, flat-out, unequivocal, unexpected errors can be a career booster, too.

Here’s why failing can be a good thing:

  • Failure is a chance to learn and grow: While there’s a lot to be said for picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and going forward after failure—but don’t move too quickly. By analyzing the situation, and your response to it, you can extract real value from a fail.
  • Acknowledging failure shows you’re honest: Owning up to failure gives you an opportunity to illustrate your positive attitude, openness, and confidence.
  • Failure makes you more interesting: Storytelling is big in marketing anything these days--including selling yourself for a terrific new position. Telling a story (about a relevant failed attempt) humanizes you, showing that you have perspective and objectivity. Failure stories give you the opportunity to show what you've learned and how you’d do things differently.
  • Dealing with failure shows resiliency: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  • Failure gives you insight: For example, if you’ve ever accepted a job that wasn’t right for you, chances are you’ve learned more about what environment helps you shine. This kind of failure redirects you to where you should be.
  • Coping well with failure brings respect: If you handle a public failure properly, you’ll often gain the respect of those around you. When you frame it and manage it properly, failure can actually enhance your reputation.
  • Having past failures stifles fear: After you’ve survived failure a few times, you’re less likely to let it hold you back from trying new things.
  • Prior failures help you appreciate success: When you finally succeed, after failing multiple times, you’re on top of the world. Hard-won success feels deserved, and helps you see the real value of all you’ve been through. You’ll find the meaning in past failures and realize the struggles were worthwhile.

Historic Failures of Business Bigwigs and Hometown Heroes

Behind every great success, is a history of treasured, sometimes spectacular, failures. For example:

Steve Jobs got fired from the company he created, Apple, just after it released the Macintosh and the company was valued at $2 billion. Initially, he was humiliated and at a loss what he could do with his life. But he calls this one of the best things to have ever happened to him. It gave him the freedom to try something new and within 5 years he had started a new venture which would go on to greatness, Pixar.

Diana Nyad, legendary swimmer, failed 4 separate times to swim from Cuba to Florida. On the 5th try, she made history. Prior to her success, she was famous as a failure, as someone who couldn't make it. She recommends always “having the courage to fail.”

J.K. Rowling was an unemployed single parent, writing in coffee shops to enjoy the heated rooms. Despite deep depression, she kept on writing. Harry Potter was rejected by multiple publishers before becoming a literary phenomenon known the world over.

Jack Ma founded Alibaba, the world's largest e-commerce platform. He is now one of the world’s richest people, but was rejected for 30 entry-level jobs after college, including a KFC server, hotel waiter, and police officer. He had failed his college entry exam in China twice, and was later rejected by Harvard ten times. His outlook: you’ll never succeed unless you get used to dealing with failure.

Using Failure as a Growth Experience

If you’ve made a big mistake or experienced a gigantic fail recently, congratulations! You are in good company. Remember that failure isn't fatal, most of the time. Failure is part of the human condition, and inevitable. Failure can also be a positive and motivational influence in your life. Now—what will you make of it?

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