Don’t Fear Failure. Instead, Fail Forward

“If the rate of change on the outside, is greater than the rate of change of the inside, the end is near.” – Jack Welch

Failure. For 20 plus years we have all been taught to fear, combat, and loathe failure. At a young age we were taught that failure was unacceptable. Go to your room. Period. End of discussion.

Failure was a dark lesson then, but as grown people we realize something: without failure, there can be no improvement. In younger years, we change so rapidly that it’s easy to forget that failure is what moves us to the mature people we are today. Success in our peers is like an iceberg, people only see the powerful and awe-worthy mass above the water and are unable to see the 90 percent that lies below the surface consisting of failure, disappointment, persistence, and hard work.

What comes after failure, if you intend to capitalize on the potential self-improvement? How do you handle it? Do you break down? Do you give up? Or do you fail forward?

In my first year as a participant of Corporate America, I have failed, not once, not twice, but almost consistently. Some were large, others minor, but all were jarringly disappointing to face and take responsibility for. Like all of us, I would much prefer to enter my field with determination and succeed relentlessly until my climb and the subsequent benefits satisfy my desire to be impactful and influential. This idea of perfection, of a smooth transition, of success that breezes over you like a spring break afternoon, is a fantasy. A standard which cannot be reached, but that is still idealized. While there is nothing wrong with holding onto an impossible goal as a way to ensure you’re reaching your full potential, you must also learn to cope graciously and learn from failure. When you find such a balance, your transition to leadership will become smoother and simpler.

This year, I’ve come to face harsh realities of my shortcomings, coupled with constant affirmations that I was in no position for promotion, yet. While easier to explain my mistakes away with semantics, circumstances, or the fault of others, I soon realized that the biggest obstacle in my way was not a partner, boss, or even co-workers.. It was myself. More specifically, my pride.

As millennials, our lives revolve around having the right answer, from grade school to summer camp to college finals. We are given test upon test to gauge how often we get to the right answer, and define our success by this. However, in our careers, it is far more important to have the right questions. It takes humility to ask, to listen, and be willing to follow a routine that does not follow your natural inclination for the sake of co-worker consistency and communication. Questions are to knowledge as knowledge is growth, and interpersonal growth and dedication will lead invariably to success.

The infamous Duke and USA Basketball Head Coach, Coach K, illustrates failing forward with the Next Play Mentality. The thought behind it is simple: whether you succeeded or failed last play, you move on to the Next Play. While watching his games, you can actually hear the crowd chanting, “Next Play, Next Play!” Point being, you can’t change the past but you can certainly control the future. When you don’t show a negative reaction for failure or mistakes it shows a level of adaptability that is highly valued in every aspect of life. Your career is a game you’ve been invited to play, but only have half of the rulebook. You will make mistakes and there is no getting around it. What defines you is how you push forward and adapt. Next time you have a discussion with a superior where you’re being corrected, listen intently, humble yourself, learn from it, and then walk back to your desk with your new knowledge thinking “Next Play, Next Play!” Be your own fan in the stands and move on.

Failure is inevitable. No one is perfect. What separates those who move up from those who move out is how you learn from your failures. Own your mistakes, don’t ignore them. Use that new knowledge to grow yourself and become more confident and efficient in your field.

Don’t fear failure. Embrace it, learn from it and fail forward.

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