How Remembering Your Failures Can Bring You Success

Here’s a little secret about me…well I guess it’s not so much a secret to those who know me. But I absolutely hate being reminded of my failures. Once I realize that I’ve screwed up big time, I usually will do my best to correct my error quickly, move on, and hopefully never have to think about it again. Sounds like a wise move right?

Not quite…

As I continue to progress toward the big 3-0 (yes folks…I’m tellin’ my age here), I’m starting to become more in tune with things that I really do well and conversely, those things that I really don’t do well, and one of the things I’ve realized is that I’m a big chicken when it comes to reflecting on times in my life when I really bombed. I know you’re probably reading this thinking, “okay and why would you want to reflect on those less-than-stellar moments? Why not let the past be the past?”

But the reality is that one really can’t move on from the past until they have examined it and really gleaned those little life lessons that are necessary to bring about better choices in the present and future. I realized that because I have always been in such a hurry to run away from the mistake, I often would make 100 more similar ones down the road because I really didn’t take the time to introspect and identify the choices that were made before to lead me down those wrong turns.

As professionals, especially as young professionals, we’re going to make dozens of mistakes and have plenty of those “I really wish I hadn’t done that” moments. But as we progress, if we are really growing both personally and professionally, the types of mistakes will not repeat and we will begin to ascend the ladder and make other mistakes (no unfortunately the mistakes don’t stop), but on a higher playing field. The key is that with each step and each stumble, our feet should be moving forward.

But it all starts with not being afraid to face our failures head on, dissecting them, and then learning from them.

So if you can relate, as we move into a new year, here are just a few suggestions for taking the bull by the horns:

  • Journal: Yes I know it sounds very “Dear Diary-ish”, but seriously, do it. Buy a notebook and jot down your thoughts on projects that may have gone awry or even personal relationships that did not end well (for my techies out there who prefer to store in the cloud, email yourself or open up a free Evernote account). Write down what happened, what your expectations were, and all the factors that most likely could have contributed to it going downhill. And then write down your ideas on what could have been done differently to have a better outcome. Now here’s the hard part. Be honest. If all of your reasons point to someone or something else being the cause of the problem, most likely you will not get very far with this exercise.  
  •  Where possible, look for opportunities to try again: Armed with your new well-rounded perspective on what went wrong the first time around, it’s time to jump back in the saddle. So if that open house that you took the lead on planning last fall turned out to be a dud, don’t be afraid to volunteer to help in the planning for next year. Pull out some of your notes from your journal and share  with the team what you saw fall short last time and then make suggestions for how to improve. Or if that blow up with your co-worker or your boss really left a lot of tension, invite them to lunch or to have a one-on-one to clear the air. 
  • Learn to love a big ol’ piece of humble pie (and don’t forget the milk!): Depending on the magnitude of your error, you may want to tread lightly as you seek to rebuild your credibility in a particular area. While you can’t allow your mistakes to be held over your head, you have to remember that when you make a mistake, it does change the way people perceive you and may knock you down a peg or two. So don’t walk back into a situation pretending that you didn’t screw up before. But if you acknowledge your shortcomings and demonstrate that you are willing to work your tail off to show that you have grown from that, the climb back up won’t be as excruciating.

Okay…so I spilled my beans, now it’s your turn! How do you confront your failures? What important lessons have you learned over the years when dealing with disappointments? 

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