Any time you’re trying to recover from professional failure, start by treating yourself to an Internet search on the subject. You’ll find out that most icons of success see failure as a learning experience.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison
“A failure is a man who has blundered, but is not able to cash in on the experience.” – Elbert Hubbard
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby
All the popular concepts of failure being character-building, growth-inducing and good for the soul aside, failure is no fun, particularly in its initial stages, and is even more uncomfortable when it happens in a professional situation.
So, how can you turn shock, frustration and embarrassment into a tool for growth and eventual success?
First, get those negative feelings out and processed. Don’t try to ignore your normal, human reactions to screwing up, being passed over or having your pet project rejected. If you do, they will keep bubbling and fermenting just below the surface, creating a poisonous brew that can sap your will, creativity and intelligence just when you need them most. So, get those feelings out, write them down, agonize for an evening or a weekend, and then file the results under “Useful Experiences.”
Second, analyze what happened. Get information, ask for feedback, figure out what you could have done better, and realistically assess what you could control and what was out of your hands.
Next, own up to any ripples spreading out from your failure, apologize if it’s needed, and set to work immediately on solutions and new approaches. If possible, supplement your apologies with specific information about the steps you’re taking to fix the failure. It’s even more impressive if you can also outline specific things you’ve already learned from your experience, and where you plan to look for ways to avoid it in the future.
The most important next step is to take another risk, as soon as you can. Resilience is a priceless professional asset! Gather up all your creativity, intelligence, professional training and knowledge and attack the failure with everything you’ve got, until you emerge from the tussle reinvigorated with new ideas.
For example, if you were in charge of a project that failed, the best response is to quickly come up with a detailed plan for how to incorporate what the failure taught you into a new approach to solving the same problem. Or you can demonstrate that the failure uncovered the fact that what the project focused on was not actually the problem, and outline possible approaches and solutions.
If you can courageously face failure, and then promptly build solutions and success out of the rubble, you are not only building professional skills in countless areas, you are also assuring that you will be considered a valuable asset, no matter what your career.