In the words of Albert Einstein, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Failure is unavoidable, and in fact very important, part of life. In our professional lives, we are guaranteed to experience at least a few failures, whether big or small. What we need to do is learn to harness failure, and use it to our advantage instead of letting it hold us back. But how? The key is to understand the upsides of failure – how does mastering it help us? And why shouldn’t we fear failure, but rather embrace it?
It boosts innovation
One of the biggest predictors of innovation is how someone deals with what might be perceived as failure. This is why many of the world’s most innovative companies, such as Pixar Animation Studios and SpaceX, foster a corporate culture where failure is actively encouraged. These companies are aware that you can’t know what will work and what won’t until you try an approach, and embracing failure makes you more likely to try something new – which could pay off in a big way.
Thomas Edison, an American inventor famed for inventing the electric lightbulb and motion pictures, is an early example of someone with a growth mindset and focus on lifelong learning. He worked following key principles including never being discouraged by failure, rather using that as a learning experience and springboard from which to keep trying the next approach.
Central to this is reducing the stigma of failing and instead focusing on the end goal. People are often scared of things not working out due to subsequent feelings of shame, embarrassment, and guilt, so avoid taking risks or trying a different approach. In order to really accept and celebrate failure, you need to develop your psychological flexibility – reframing difficult situations, thoughts, and emotions to view them as a rich part of life and work. They understand that both opportunities and obstacles will present themselves and that’s OK; failing at something doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it can just be a sign that there’s a need to move in a different direction. When you realize that most successes are built on the experience of many failures, you can begin to see them as not failures at all, but an essential part of the process and crucial to being able to innovate.
It makes you more resilient
Navigating failure can give you the ability to deal with challenges effectively and use these to learn. To be successful in most endeavors, you need to be able to keep moving forward through ups and downs, viewing obstacles as learning experiences and not as reasons to give up.
Oprah Winfrey, for example, worked as a co-anchor for the evening news at a local station in Baltimore early in her career but was dropped after only a few months and given a number of other jobs such as writing and street reporting – where she constantly received negative feedback on her performance. Oprah has said that this time was the “first and worst failure of her TV career”. Instead of quitting, however, she used the experience as a way to recognize where her strengths lay and pivoted instead, which set her on a path to host what would become The Oprah Winfrey Show five years later.
Resilient people don’t see failure as the end, but the beginning – and they don’t let failing affect how they view their own abilities or self-worth. Working through failures helps us recognize our strengths and development areas, and see where we can improve and grow. If we let it, it can show us which path we need to take to succeed, helping to create a better plan of action for the future.
It increases confidence
Failing can be a blow to confidence, and it’s normal and healthy to take the time to feel disappointment after something hasn’t gone to plan. However, when we learn to master failure, it can actually help boost our confidence instead. The key to this is to try to reduce the pressure around situations where you may fail.
Take job interviews for example. As hard as it is when you really want a job, adjusting your mindset can make a huge difference and even improve your performance. Instead of worrying too much about failing or being the perfect interviewee, think about how even if you don’t get the role, you’ll gain valuable experience and may meet some interesting people in the process. Trust that it’s not your only shot at the future you want to create – it’s one opportunity, not your only opportunity. Approaching it in this way will make it easier to go into the room, interested in what you can learn from the person interviewing you, and confident in what you can offer – which in turn is usually reflected in how you come across.
This can be applied to any situation where failure is a possibility. If you just keep trying to get to where you want to be and have faith you’ll find a way to get there even if you need to adapt your plans along the way, failure can just be a step on the journey.