Failing forward: Analyzing the aftermath

When you fail at something, you have a few choices and it’s perfectly natural to want to spend time doing a bit of each.

  • Dwell and be miserable; where’s the ice cream?
  • Move on; pretend it never happened
  • Move on, but harvest any useful bits of knowledge from the experience

The fact of the matter is that when we fail, we still gain something no matter how painful the failure was. Failure provides an opportunity to grow, and awakens a mental “trigger” that helps us avoid failing in the same way twice.

In my book Rise of the Advocates, I detail a story from my first job working at Dairy Queen. I was making my first banana split for a customer and it was beautiful. I was so proud of it, and honored that my supervisor let me even attempt such an intricate treat.

When I handed the masterpiece to the customer waiting in his car, he immediately held it up to the car’s dome light and asked, “Where’s the banana?” I had forgotten the banana – in the banana split.

It’s a mistake I didn’t make twice, and a failure that taught me to review instructions before starting, double-check my work, and even to ask for help when attempting something new. And while this is a low-risk, nearly harmless failure, the process of response and growth is the same as high-risk failures.

It can be difficult to immediately look upon any failure with even a remote sense of gratitude. In these times it’s helpful to remember you’re not at the end, but just somewhere along the way. A colleague of mine whom I respect, Ava, has a helpful quote tacked to her bulletin board that reads, “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”

So when you’re ready, analyze your failure in search of those valuable moments along the road that will ultimately help get you to that beautiful destination.

Here are some things to consider after failing:

  • Who helped you along the way? Say thanks for that reference or advice. They didn’t support you because you asked, but because you deserved it and they believed in you.
  • If someone asked for your assistance in achieving the same goal at which you just failed, what advice would you now give them? What surprised you about the process, or reactions (or lack thereof) from others?
  • Don’t worry about how the failure reflects on you. To me, and many others, failure looks like you tried to do something great and you will undoubtedly accomplish great things soon.
  • It may be easy to give up. But giving up doesn’t pay as well as trying again.
  • Sometimes trying again means trying something new or different than you first attempted. Failure is an opportunity to pivot.
  • Don’t do anything in response to failure that could hurt your chances at a similar opportunity in the future. Build bridges, don’t burn them. When someone has to close a door, thank them for the experience and before you know it that same someone might be opening that same door and will remember your grace and kindness from before.
  • You have a finite amount of energy each day. Decide now how much you’ll reserve for mourning and how much you’ll direct toward actively pursuing your next target.
  • You don’t have to live up to others’ expectations. Your competitive drive should be only you against yourself. Be greater today than you were yesterday. Let others have their expectations – it’s their energy to do with as they please.
  • Self-care is important. Be careful with your thoughts, as they become actions. If you believe you’re great, you’ll try again. If you believe you’re worthless, you won’t. This can be difficult, but know that you’re not alone and many people who make it look easy were there once too.
  • Your network should empower you, and inspire you. If it’s discouraging you or bringing you down, it’s time to start unfollowing and disconnecting from your energy vampires. Stay connected to people who will push you farther than you ever imagined.
  • Some people want you to fail (or are indifferent). It could be insecurity, jealousy, laziness (not doing their part) or any number of issues but the issues are with them not you. While unfortunate that people in power can use it to hold you down or sabotage your chances, it’s important that you’re aware of these bad apples and can attempt to circumvent them when at all possible. If you must interact with them, interact with them publicly or in group settings so others can witness any unfair or dismissive behaviors. Or if you’re in a position to replace a bad performer, make the leap and replace them.
  • Even when you fail, there’s a lesson to be learned. Are there skills you can develop? Connections you can make? A degree or certification you could pursue? What action would make you more competitive or likely to succeed next time?
  • What actions did you take that didn’t work out so well? What would you do differently? But also what really worked? What triggered a great response and can be replicated next time around?
  • What is at the core of your goal? Is it truly getting that specific position or creating a thriving user group? Or maybe it’s getting a foot in the door at a specific company, or building a strong community? Try to identify what you’re truly after and check in with yourself from time to time to make sure the actions you’re taking are getting you closer to that core.

Remember that we often climb the ladder to our destination more quickly with assistance from those with whom we surround ourselves. Are people in your immediate circle holding you down or pushing you upward? Have you made contact with professionals in a position of power or influence that might be able to recommend or endorse you? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Try to follow people who are doing something similar to what you want to be doing. Learn from them and their own mistakes. Get to know their secret to success, and what support systems they have built. If nobody is doing what you’re doing, consider yourself a pioneer. Expect an adventure ahead, and be sure to always seek the growth opportunities from failures along the way to make your destination that much more sweet. Someday, and possibly already today, people will consider you a mentor and hope to learn from your successes (and failures).

If you failed, that means you tried. Keep trying, fail when necessary, and ultimately you’ll succeed. The path to your destination won’t always be a straight road and I’ll be here cheering you on around the corners, knowing you’ll make it to your destination soon.

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