Failure Is Inevitable. Ready to Handle It? | Career Strife Repositioned

“Be careful,” we’re told as kids. “You don’t want to make a mess.” 

“Double check your answers,” we’re told in school. “You don’t want a bad grade.” 

“Better achieve your performance goals,” we’re told at work. “You don’t want to get a poor rating or low raise, be demoted or lose your job.” 

Failure seems to come with negative consequences. Really? Always? 

The fallacy of playing it safe 

So much is written about success and how to achieve it. Virtually nothing is written about failure and how to exploit it. 

Failure is the bogeyman. (I don’t think there ever was a bogeywoman, but I can’t be sure!) We’re taught to hide from him, stay out of his way, dodge the bullets he fires at us, and to try our best to outwit him. 

Fearing failure is like playing not to lose. Sports commentators criticize teams on the verge of victory that try to hang on to their leads through conservative play, safe shot making, and “killing the clock.” Fans don’t like it either. 

Why? Because most of the time, when teams play not to lose, they end up losing. 

Winners go for broke. They sense the moment when everything is set up for a make or break effort. Then they go for it. When they’re right, everyone cheers. When wrong, heartbreak! 

You don’t have to be an athlete to share in this experience. Every time you accept a new job, take on a project, or recommend an initiative, you put your career on the line. As a result, you position yourself to play to win or not to lose.   

Failure and success are both the bedfellows of risk. 

One day after failure  Imagine this: It’s day one after you: 

  • Lost your job or didn’t get hired
  • Got a poor evaluation or no raise
  • Had your program turned down or your funding request rejected
  • Realized your product didn’t sell or your business went belly up 

People do a lot of unhelpful things to dull the pain of failure like: 

  • Getting loaded or sleeping for hours
  • Moping, railing, and beating themselves up
  • Giving up on their goals
  • Selling themselves on the futility of regaining what was lost 

What we should do is simple but challenging: 

  • Self-assess (or re-assess)
  • Refocus
  • Regroup
  • Get going 

When we’re at our lowest, we’re in the best position to consider work that makes us happy and then go for it. After all, there’s not much left to lose when we’re at the bottom. 

Stay in the game 

J. K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, talked about her own experiences with abject failure (poverty, depression, loneliness, and rejection) during her Commencement Address at Harvard in 2008. 

Her advice about the fringe benefits of failure is invaluable: She says, 

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” 

“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. “

“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”

Like Rowling, we need to accept that we can move from any low point to a higher one. To do that, we must continue to stay in the game, playing hard to win. Our business fitness gives us a platform to build from. On any given day, we may lose a game or a challenge, but if we continue to contend, we can achieve what we’ve set out to do. Now it’s time to suit up!

What has been your most disappointing career failure? How did you deal with it? Any tips for us? Thanks.

Wanted: High Flying Career. Will Work Without a Net! | Risking Failure for Success

High wire acts. Acrobats. Human cannonballs. Circus careers come with big performance expectations and high stakes. The consequences of failure can be dire.

Successful circus performers are masters of precision, flexibility, teamwork, and consistency. They own every move they make for their own good and the safety of others.

Flying through the air on a trapeze with no net below is the measure of a career that you own. When you don’t expect to fail, you’ve arrived.

What’s your act? 

Everyone wants an exciting career:

  • Marketing lead on a big account
  • Editor at a hot shot publication
  • Start up business owner
  • Global account exec
  • Ecotourism director 

What does all this take? Do we just grab a chair and dash into a cage with the Bengal tigers, listening for the roar of the crowd? 

A career is a progression of our work life. It doesn’t just appear. The jobs we take are how we get things started. There are no guarantees that those jobs will add up to a career, particularly one that makes us feel successful. We just give it our best shot.

Risk is the route to reward!

Fear is the death knell for our careers: fear of failure, the boss, new assignments, change, or rocking the boat.

Playing the game to get a raise, promotion, or plum assignment isn’t risk taking. It’s maneuvering within the safe zone.

Career risks are about owning your choices and the consequences of your decisions, good or bad. That’s when you feel the exhilaration of flying through the air without a tether or that proverbial net. That’s when you know you are fully in charge of your career and, perhaps, your life.

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t as brave as those circus aerialists. We make decisions expecting that:

  • If it doesn’t work out, we can rely our parents or spouse to bail us out
  • We can go back to the job we left behind or a prior employer
  • Going back to school will ultimately land us a better job 

We tend not to take risks that will leave us in a helpless heap if we come up short.

What are you willing to wager?

This is the quandary: Because self-preservation is a strong motivator, how do we balance our risk tolerance and our success aspirations?

Start out by being honest about what you want to achieve and why. What will make you really proud of yourself? What choices are you willing to stand up for in spite of the potentially negative reactions of people you care about? What sacrifices are you ready to make?

Look at professional athletes. Many come from backgrounds fraught with struggle and want. So they bet everything on the outside chance they will become big time athletes. If they fail, nothing much changes.

Look at children of privilege who were expected to go into the family business but want to do their own thing instead. That’s what happened with Warren Buffet’s, son, Peter, who became an Emmy Award winning musician his way. If he’d failed, he’d have paid the price on many levels.

Look at William Gates Gill, author of How Starbuck’s Saved My Life, who lost his high-powered marketing job at J. Walter Thompson Advertising. At 63 he took a service job at a Starbuck’s store in New York City because he was down and out. If he failed at that, he was done.

Fold the net…Find the glory!

Career success feels sweetest when you’ve made it your way. Safety nets are often an illusion and can become a prison. Tune out the naysayers who chant: “Girls/guys don’t do that,” “What if this all goes wrong,” “You don’t know what you’re doing.” Think for yourself and about yourself. Don’t fear risk. Embrace it smartly.

When you’re business fit, you’ve thought through the options. You’ve done your due diligence. You know where you’re headed. You’ve inventoried your capabilities. You’re packed and ready to run away to the circus! See you there!

What was the biggest career risk you’ve taken? How did it work out? Can’t wait to hear!