That knot in your stomach and that SICK feeling you get when you realise you’ve cocked up…. Or perhaps you think something went well but your manager or client feels otherwise. No one likes that, right? No one wants to fail. It can really knock your self-confidence and make you doubt yourself. But what if I told you that failure can also be a good thing? Before we get to that… here are five tips to deal with failure when it strikes.
Own up to it
The worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen. Actually, there is something worse than that – passing the blame on to someone else. If you’ve messed up, ‘fess up. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you handle it that matters. Be honest, explain what went wrong and why and how you’ll ensure it doesn’t happen again. You’ll be respected for it.
Don’t dwell on it
It’s normal to feel pretty down or even angry with yourself for making a mistake. Allow yourself an hour or even an afternoon to think about it, reflect on it and then just move on. Don’t let it consume your thoughts.
Talk about it
Don’t bottle things up inside – talk it through with someone, whether it’s a trusted colleague, friend or partner. You will feel a lot better. If you’re a freelancer, there are lots of supportive groups on Facebook where you can share your story of failure. You don’t necessarily have to ask for advice; simply asking for a ‘virtual hug’ or a ‘can you relate to this’ or even a ‘so I just need to get this off my chest…’ can go a long way in helping lift the weight of failure off your shoulder. One fantastic (closed) Facebook group I belong to has a weekly ‘Whinge Wednesday’ thread where you can get everything that’s bothering you off your chest – in a safe, supportive space. It’s very therapeutic.
Learn from it
What can you learn from what went wrong? Let me tell you a story. A couple of years back, I went for an interview for a freelance role working with a well-known charity on an exciting campaign. I had been approached directly by the charity and I thought I had it in the bag. So, when I went along for the interview I didn’t expand on some of the questions because I assumed they just knew that I was more than capable of doing the job. I’d answer with, ‘that wouldn’t be a problem at all’ instead of ‘that wouldn’t be a problem at all because I have lots of experience in xyz and here’s an example’.
Suffice to say, I didn’t get the job. I failed. I learnt an invaluable lesson though: never assume someone knows about you or your experience just because they approached you directly. You still have to sell yourself and convince them that you’re the right person for the job. I’ve never made the mistake again.
Don’t let it define you
Obviously I’m not talking about sending out a newsletter to the wrong people or a spelling mistake in an advert. This is more about feeling like you’ve failed in your career or a really big project. If you’re feeling like this at the moment, think about Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. Steve dropped out of college after one semester, co-founded tech giant Apple, then got unceremoniously dropped from the company. He said in an interview,
What had been the focus of my entire adult life, was gone. It was devastating.
Of course, as we all know, he returned to Apple a few years later and helped turn it into a massive success. So how did he turn it around? He didn’t let that failure define him. He recognised what had gone wrong, worked on his weaknesses and gave it another shot.
Why not turn failure in to a driver to succeed?
Failure is seen as a bad thing, a negative thing – both in business and in society. Sometimes it’s even seen as something to be ashamed of. But it shouldn’t be. Life is a journey and there will be times along the way when you stumble or fall. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on that path – or choose another. Failure is a positive thing – if you learn from it.