Failure–Who Needs It? | You Do

We just don’t like it. We often fear it, dread it, struggle to avoid it, and sometimes succumb to it. Failure tests us. It makes us face up to what we’re made of.

Failure and fear are ominous bedfellows. They feed each other and us too in ways that can be crushing.

Embracing failure

If we want to succeed, we need to welcome failure. It’s our greatest teacher.

If it weren’t, we wouldn’t remember our failures more keenly than our successes.

Our failures have a habit of sticking, and because they do, they become the essential reference point that we need to grasp.

Failures in our careers come in all shapes and sizes:

  • the blown interview
  • unmet performance goals
  • a failed project, product, or software application
  • an ineffective presentation or rejected proposal
  • job loss or business failure

Faced with any of these, you might choose to:

  • give up, become inconsolably disgruntled or retaliatory
  • blame others, the company, or some policy
  • berate yourself, lose all confidence, or backslide

But, if you’re smart, you’ll stop and say, “I need to figure out what I need to do to get better, so I can avoid failures like this in the future.”

Tune in

No matter how great they are, professional athletes continuously experience failure. Every contest does not end up in a win and they know it.

Pro baseball players fail at bat more than they succeed. Pro golfers can compete for years and never win a tournament. (They may get a paycheck, but their ultimate measure of success is wins.)

As a result, athletes use every failure to learn something about themselves, ways to improve their skills, and insights to sharpen their game sense.

Lolo Jones is an American track and field athlete. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she was favored to win the 100 meter hurdles, but she tripped on the second to last hurdle, finishing seventh. It was a crushing failure for a competitor who had overcome a life of poverty through hard work and determination to reach such a pinnacle moment.

Lolo is competing in the 2012 Olympics in London where she will pursue gold in the same race. After four years learning from  her 2008 failure, she sees that by fighting her way back to the Olympics, she has already won. She said on NBC’s Today Show (8/7/12), “For me, it will be like facing my fears.” Facing them means she has already overcome that old failure.

Kerri Strug, retired American gymnast and member of the Magnificent Seven gold medal team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, is famous for her performance on the vault to win the all-around, despite having severely injured her ankle. Early on, as a gymnast, she was considered mentally and emotionally frail in her performances during times of competitive stress. So with everything on the line in 1996, Kerri demonstrated what she has now come to realize: “It’s your failures that catapult you forward” (from a 2012 interview on NBC).

Exploit your failures

It’s time to take hold of your failures and exploit them for your own success. Face them. Embrace them. That’s how you will free yourself from the hold they may have on you and turn them into an asset.

Make those failures clear by writing them down. State what you see as the failure and make sure you’ve got it right. Then start listing what the failure has taught you about:

  • your skills and knowledge
  • your attitude, point of view, understanding of the situation
  • your commitment, standards, work ethic, courage
  • confidence, relationships, honesty

Then write an action plan for yourself. What are you going to do to be better prepared to minimize the chances of failure next time. Find someone you trust to help you. Then get on with it. The only one who can overcome failure is you. So please make failure your friend!

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Want to Make It? Then Believe You Will…Without a Doubt.

“Why not me?” That’s the nagging question we often ask ourselves after we fail to:

David Ferrer

  • Get that promotion
  • Receive recognition or reward for our contributions
  • Land the job we wanted

Whether we’re an individual contributor, supervisor, manager, or executive, there will always be some career goal that keeps eluding us. So what’s the answer?

Know how to compete.

“Making it” is about competing. You want to progress in your career, and so do most of the people working with you. That means those coworkers are also attempting to stand out and showcase their value.

Unlike in sports, we don’t find ourselves pitted against each other in a specific contest each day, but we are continuously being compared to one  another by our supervisors and managers.

They assess our:

  • knowledge, skills, and experience
  • desire, motivation, and reliability
  • work ethic and integrity
  • ability to collaborate, engage others, and lead
  • mental toughness and focus in the face of adversity

We  compete, every day, by demonstrating our ability to get desired results. The more significant our contributions, the more value the company will assign to us.

Sadly, this isn’t always enough to “make it” in our terms.

Believe you will.

You aren’t the only one putting together your portfolio of value attributes. Others are doing it too.

Remember: You are all performing as best you can, differentiating yourselves, building relationships, and getting ready for that next big step.

You increase your chances of making that step when you really believe you will.

We all tell ourselves that we want to, are ready to, are prepared to, have worked to, and are entitled to that step. But that’s not the same as believing we will…with no doubt, no second-guessing, no probably. We must believe we WILL.

David Ferrer is a Spanish professional tennis player, currently World No. 5 in the ATP Rankings. He turned professional in 2000 and is known as a clay-court specialist, although he has also had success on hard courts.

He routinely faces current tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer who have amassed numerous championship titles. They routinely beat Ferrer and are almost always between him and a championship title.

The fact is that Ferrer has all the skills and desire to win:

Ferrer is noted for being one of the more dogged, agile and fit players on the tour… Ferrer has won many matches through consistent baseline play along with great fitness, footspeed and determination. Although he does not possess powerful  groundstrokes like many of his contemporaries, his ability to keep the ball deep in play has allowed him to be successful on all surfaces, especially on clay and hard courts… Roger Federer regards Ferrer as the best returner in the men’s game.

So what’s the obstacle for Ferrer?

While I was watching the 2012 Internazionali BNL d’Italia tournament where Ferrer faced Nadal in the semi-final, one of the TV commentators offered his opinion that, as good as Ferrer was, it appeared he simply didn’t believe he could beat his higher ranked rivals.

Who can say for sure if that’s true for Ferrer, but what about in your case?

Do you believe?

So we come to another question…one only you can answer. It takes something deep inside to get us to really believe we can achieve our personal career goals. That believing is a mental discipline that we form through:

  • Constructive feedback consistently internalized from people we trust and respect
  • Absorbing the confidence shown by others–our fans, our supporters, our friends/family
  • Committing to prove something to ourselves
  • Wanting to share success with those who are invested in us and/or for a  cause
  • Realizing that our time will come, so we must remain ready

There is no predicting when we will move from where we are to really believing in ourselves and our ability to secure our brass ring. We need to teach ourselves to deny self-doubt any place in our thinking and replace it with the belief that, through our continued hard work and diligence, we will make it. You gotta believe, okay?

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