Developing Your Career

Developing Your Career

One Step Back and Two Steps Forward: Moving On After Failure

By Greg Simpson on February 14, 2014

Have you ever experienced a failure, only to realize later, that the setback provided an opportunity for professional or personal growth? Too often we let a disappointment knock us off balance, leaving us immobilized by our self-imposed fears. If, for example, you were denied a promotion, were unsuccessful with a project, or blew an interview, it’s not unusual to feel discouraged or frustrated. Nevertheless, the sooner you can accept a failure for what it is—an opportunity to learn by evaluating performance, determining what went wrong, and implementing a strategy for improvement—the more likely you are to achieve your desired outcomes.

In her Self article, How to Turn Your Career Failures into Lasting Success, Sarah Mahoney discusses how she felt embarrassed and hurt when she lost a prestigious job running a magazine.  She tell us how a few wise words from a friend gave her a new perspective and motivated her to begin a successful job search. As Mahoney puts it, her success was the result of “failing forward” —a concept introduced by tech developers as “test/fail/move on”—and one that recognizes “failure is integral to success.”

Through our failures—or even small, everyday mistakes—we can take away great lessons if we’re willing to take ownership for our current situation, evaluate what went wrong, and develop a strategy for propelling us forward. A failure presents an opportunity to ask what could have been done differently. Was it the idea, execution, planning, process, or team? Was it a lack of experience, skills or education? Instead of getting hung up on perfection, analyze what could be improved and then put a plan into action.

Our most accomplished game-changers in all arenas have long embraced the “failing forward” philosophy. Basketball great Michael Jordan sums it up: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

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