Wardrobe failures excluded ;)

Wardrobe failures excluded ;)

Yep, you read that right. Failing.


It sounds wrong to want to fail. Most of us spend our whole lives avoiding failure. Tiptoeing around to make sure we never make a mistake or screw up.


The thing is, while this strategy might avoid problems on a day-to-day basis, it’s setting you up for a mediocre career. Never failing means never taking risks. It means staying inside of the box. Going the safe route. Holding back.


How much success do you think comes out of this kind of strategy? Sure, you avoid embarrassment and you don’t have to stress about really putting yourself out there, but you’re also drastically limiting your potential.


Recently I was speaking with Gordon Ching, a 21-year old who is VP of Marketing and Communications for AIESEC Canada, a 2400-member organization spanning 30 universities. Gordon explained that he feels his generation is particularly failure-averse, a risk in and of itself given many of the world’s most successful people credit their career advancement with their openness to failure. Gordon, on the other hand, claims multiple failures already – willingly. He notes the elections he’s lost all the way from elementary school to university, but also the learning he got from those elections and how the experience led to bigger and better things. Wise beyond his years, I’m telling you!


So, have you been living a failure-phobic life? Well there’s no reason you have to continue. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:


–       Commit – publicly – to a big, ambitious goal. This forces you to take chances and go for it, whatever ‘it’ might be.

–       Have a ‘growth mindset’. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t dwell on them, but don’t ignore them either. Figure out why something bombed, and then you’re a lot less likely to let it happen again.

–       Position projects or initiatives as ‘experiments’. Be upfront about the fact you’re trying something new and different. Experiments aren’t all expected to succeed, but there’s merit and learning that comes from them regardless of the outcome.

–       Focus on what’s in your ‘locus of control’, and not on what isn’t. You can agonize about how many things can go wrong, but that’s especially unproductive when you can’t influence these factors. Keep your energy on what you can control.

–       Be accountable when things go wrong. Don’t skirt responsibility and pretend it wasn’t your fault. Own the work – whether it’s totally successful or if it’s an epic failure. Admitting that you screwed up is a real strength precisely because it’s so difficult.


Lots of this comes down to grit or resilience, the kind of jargon-y words that HR people always throw around (including yours truly) ;) The thing is, whenever everything’s going well, work’s pretty easy. Your projects go to plan, the clients pay you compliments, your boss is happy. So the real test is obviously when things start to go sour. You take a risk and it doesn’t exactly pay off. What happens next is what matters most.


I honestly believe that the amount of risk you take is equal to the amount of learning and success you’ll have. For every big win, there are going to be a bunch more flops.  So start flopping more, and every flop will take you closer to your next critical turning point.



Comments & Responses

8 Responses so far.

  1. Cathy Brown Sykora says:

    Great article. Risk is very important for growth, both mentally and financially. Embracing failure is very hard for most but of epic importance in the learning process. Once we understand that not everything works out as planned but there is always something to learn from it we can begin to grow. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Boredom to Boardroom says:

    Thanks Cathy! So glad you enjoyed the article :)

  3. Becky Newton says:

    I enjoyed reading this article. I am a firm believer that from every experience/job/ interview, positive things can be gained irrelevant of the outcome (even if it doesn’t feel like that at the time). It takes a lot of strength of character when someone can dust themselves off and try again. I wouldn’t be doing the job I love if I hadn’t had some failures along the way… after all the first interview I failed at was demonstrating to supermarkets how to handle and present bananas!

  4. Boredom to Boardroom says:

    Thanks Becky! Wow – a banana demonstration! I’d love to hear about what went wrong! Sounds like a good story :)

  5. Becky Newton says:

    Haha, it’s only years later that I wonder whether it was a real job or just some people having a laugh at my (and other interviewee’s) expense!

  6. Boredom to Boardroom says:

    Candid camera maybe? ;)

  7. Jules says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I just had a major interview last week and finding out today that I didn’t get it. The sad thing is that I started dwelling on how I always seem to have been “failing” at a lot of different things and opportunities since I graduated from college. I am thankful to your suggestions and will be trying my best to stay positive,encouraged, and persistent. Thankyou!

  8. Boredom to Boardroom says:

    Thanks so much, Jules. I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get the job but it sounds like you have a good attitude about moving forward and that’s critical. I think employers can definitely pick up on it so you’re already doing the right things. Did you ask the employer for any feedback? They often won’t give it (for legal reasons) but it never hurts to follow up, say you appreciated the opportunity to meet with them, you remain very interested in the company and if they have any feedback as to areas you might need to strengthen, new skills needed, etc, you’d welcome the feedback. Might be worth a shot :)

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