How many of you have been told to take a chance and try new things while also being bound by old rules? Old rules about risk; old rules about change; old rules about careers; old rules about success and old rules about failure. Years ago, I started my mission to set the record straight about success, and that led me to fight against pervasive and outdated nonsense about failure that causes people to have shame and guilt for career and professional failures.
Four focus areas for discussing professional failure
Of course you should be able to talk about your professional failures without being made to feel guilty for ever failing in the first place.
First – You had the courage to fail so you surely have the courage to thrive.
I am scared way more often than I am brave. I am uncomfortable much more frequently than I am comfortable. I am unsure about so much more than I am certain of. I have dropped many more balls than I have ever caught, and I have failed at more initiatives than I have succeeded. And it is because of this, not in spite of it, that I thrive.
This is my core message on failure, and I often write about it and share it during keynote and motivational talks on failure and success. After working with and listening to thousands of people in countries across three continents, I am certain that this statement isn’t just my core message; I know that it is applicable for many of you too.
I hope you never have one ounce of shame about your professional failures. Don’t have one ounce of shame about trying to accomplish your personal and professional goals and to build the career you want. And don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty about failing at something you had the courage to try in the first place. The goal is to learn from your mistakes and failures and keep moving forward. Use these tips to overcome it, and your career will continue to thrive.
Second – You can be afraid to fail, but you can’t be afraid to try.
Who in the world came up with this notion that “nothing beats a try but a failure?” I couldn’t find out, but every time I hear this, I find myself thinking that this is a horrible thing to tell someone. Failing has never been the worst thing that can happen professionally or with your career. That title goes to never even trying. It is reserved for when people don’t have the courage to risk failure. One of the worst things you can do is give in to your fears.
Regret causes more pain than failure ever will. So many – far too many – never even try. They are too afraid to take the game-winning shots (the risks) to advance their careers. They don’t ever even apply for the coveted job because they didn’t meet every single job qualification. They never seriously advocated for the raise or promotion that they know they deserve. They don’t even attempt to start that business and never gave entrepreneurship a try. They never entered that talent show and never tried out for that basketball team. These are just some examples of the many things that are far worse than failing.
Third – Failure has to be an option.
Let’s just shut down this whole idea that “failure is not an option.” You hear people proclaiming this all the time when they are motivated to succeed at some new venture or project. “Failure is not option!” This old adage reflects old rules.
In today’s competitive workforce where change makers, strategic thinkers, innovators and technology gurus dominate, failure must be an option. To get the best out of people, they must have a safe place to make mistakes and fail. When we hold people to the “you can’t fail” standard, we – by default – create an atmosphere of anxiety and fear. Not only does this end up limiting the potential greatness of each employee, it creates a culture where people become afraid to even act. This is nonsense, and it has to stop.
Here’s the deal. The moment we decide that failure is not an option, we inherently decide that success is not either because strategic thinking, creativity and innovation cannot thrive in a culture of fear and perfection. Once you go in with the idea that failure is not an option, everyone gets too scared to do anything different. People dare not risk failure because they fear rejection, and they don’t want to do things that might make themselves or others look bad or become uncomfortable. In order for you or your team to experience the greatest levels of success, failure has to be an option.
Fourth – Use your failures to your advantage during job interviews.
When you are asked about your failures during job interviews, answer with pride. Tell them that you know success breeds success but failure does too. Tell them that failure is normal, natural and necessary. Tell your interviewers that failure helped you build character and develop perseverance and grit. Tell them that trying beats failure every single day of the week and that you aren’t afraid to try new things. Let the person know your failures have made you stronger. It shows that you are open to new ideas and innovation. It’s proof that you face your fears and embrace change. Tell them that you continue to grow and learn.
When discussing your failures, make it clear that it’s because you have tried things and failed that you have developed the in-demand competencies and qualities that are useful in leadership, innovation and organizational change. Lean in and tell the interviewers, with pride, that you have developed these skills because you had the courage to try where others gave in to their fears.