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Want a Secret to Professional Success? Start Failing More

Want a Secret to Professional Success? Start Failing More

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By Leia O’Connell, MSW
Contributor and Career Coach, APUS

Failure is not something that comes easy to any of us. Professional missteps leave a lasting dent in our ego and influence our eagerness to take risks.

Think of the people you admire in a professional capacity. What do you see? You probably imagine their successes first: their titles, leadership abilities, projects they’ve managed, funding they’ve secured and so on. When you see someone who’s been successful, you picture a career journey paved with smart decisions, hard work and maybe some luck.

All of these things may be true. But here’s what you’re not seeing:

  • The struggles
  • The risks
  • The risks taken and lost
  • Frustrations
  • Flat-out failures

Most of us tend to be more comfortable broadcasting our successes than our failures, which is why you don’t hear about them as often. But it’s our failures that ultimately lead to achievements. The best leaders fail many times before achieving their dreams.

Fear of Failure Causes Us to Miss Out On New Opportunities

Consider what you’re avoiding because you’re afraid to fail. How about networking opportunities? This is typically a big fear, the fear of a social interaction going wrong.

In a May 2016 Harvard Business Review article, “Learn to Love Networking,” authors Tiziana Casciaro, Francesa Gino and Maryam Kouchaki suggest you can adjust your mindset about networking by entering a networking conversation with a tone of curiosity versus a specific, career-promoting agenda.

Having genuine interest and an attitude of learning could help you overcome the nagging concern that you are perceived as someone who is just trying to get ahead. This technique may be especially helpful for those who don’t have a lot of networking experience.

What about the fear of taking on a new task or role at work because you’re not sure you will be good at it? What if you fail? Okay, that might happen; you might fail. But from your failures, you learn and you grow. You become better and can try again.

Analyze what didn’t work…and what did. Try again, but do it differently. Learn to fail a little better next time. It is all right to be upset when you fail; take a moment to be sad and then move on.

Failure Can Positively Influence Your Professional Development

If you consider yourself a lifelong learner, adapting to and overcoming failure includes your career as well. Start getting comfortable with the discomfort that comes with improvement. Make sure you’re open to and willingly ask for criticism and suggestions on how you can improve from leaders and peers.

If you’re like me, someone who struggles with accepting negative feedback, start inviting it. You’re in control, which is helpful – you’re asking for advice to improve yourself. Learn to evaluate where you need improvement and start improving the skills that need additional work. Do not shy away from your deficits; embrace them and make them your strengths.

As you start to seek opportunities (including those where you might fail), you will find that opportunities come to you more readily. Think of each failure as a brick paving the road to your success. Wake up tomorrow morning, seize the day and fail at something new!

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