Failure can hurt. But did you really fail?

How to use failure as the springboard to success

“I failed. I have to go back to the drawing board and start over.”

That’s what a colleague in the midst of a job transition told me after a recent disappointment.

She’d spent months working hard to land a new job and was closing in on what looked like a fantastic opportunity. After multiple interviews, she was feeling optimistic about the possibility of an offer.

But it wasn’t to be.

The company announced that the division was being sold and initiated a hiring freeze.

Frustrating? Absolutely. Discouraging? You bet. A failure? That depends on your perspective.

When you’re so close to achieving what you feel will be a great success that you can almost taste it, labeling it a failure when things don’t work out might be your default response. It can feel like all your hard work was a waste of time. You’re back to square one.

But is that true? It’s all in your point of view.

“It’s failure that gives you the proper perspective on success.” – Ellen DeGeneres

Here’s a different way to view this situation. The company’s decision to sell the division was something she had no control over. Any perceived failure wasn’t on her part. Looking at this through a different lens, you can see progress and success. Through her hard work and perseverance over the last several months, she:

  • gained clarity on what she wants (and doesn’t want) from her next career move
  • forged new relationships and significantly expanded her network
  • honed her job search and interviewing skills
  • polished her resume and LinkedIn profile
  • found a mentor who challenges and supports her

Now she’s buffing her resilience muscles as she re-groups and plans her next steps. Based on her demonstrated work ethic, the new clarity she’s acquired and the skills she’s sharpened, I have every confidence that she’s going to find a terrific opportunity.

What about you? When you experience a setback, how do you respond?

Here are 3 strategies that can help you avoid falling into the “I’ve failed” trap.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. When you’ve worked hard to achieve a goal, it’s normal to feel discouraged or sad when it doesn’t work out. Take time to process what happened and feel what you feel. Denying your feelings leads to internalizing them. This can fuel your inner critic or cause resentment and anger to simmer. Treat yourself with kindness instead.
  2. Avoid catastrophizing. Once you’ve processed your feelings, take a look at what really happened. It’s likely not as terrible as it may have initially felt. What are the facts? By looking at the situation more objectively, you can determine what went well, what you learned and where you might take a different approach in the future.
  3. Think progress, not perfection. You can choose to see achieving your goal as a win or lose proposition. But this all or nothing thinking diminishes the real growth and learning that comes from working towards an important objective. By tracking your progress and appreciating the small wins along the way, your mindset focuses on success, not failure.

The next time you start to think you’ve failed and need to go back to the drawing board, remember this: what you learn from your setbacks can become the springboard to your success.

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