Having recently been invited to attend an HR forum where the subject matter for discussion was “Learning to Fail Successfully”, my thoughts were initially drawn to the negative connotations associated with the word “fail” and I was a little unsure about attending. However, intrigue got the better of me and I’m thankful it did as the forum was highly thought provoking.
What is failure?
Whilst I know I have failed more times than I’d like to admit, I don’t think I had ever consciously paused to think about what failure is, what defines something as being a failure?
With the internet at our fingertips, when unsure of something an automatic response these days is to go online and find an instant answer – Wikipedia defines failure as “the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.”
And whilst failure can be an extremely painful and highly personal experience, it is something we all do as we go through life, it makes us who we are. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” – J.K. Rowling.
The notion of learning to fail successfully is an intriguing one. When we think about failure we are naturally drawn to thinking of it in a negative light, but those who have experienced true failure and have bounced back from it know that failure in life is necessary for success. All roads to success are filled with upsets, setbacks and failures, but the ability to learn from these failures and to avoid repeating them equips us with the knowledge and mental toughness required to succeed.
The knowledge we gain from failing is powerful, the pain we feel when we’ve not succeeded stays with us for a lifetime and acts as a very clear reminder not to take that same route twice. With the pain of failure comes increased resilience, through failing we learn the hard way that things don’t happen overnight, that to succeed we need to invest a huge amount of time and effort. Failure also enables us to grow as individuals and gain a better understanding of ourselves, why we do the things we do and ultimately what it is that is of most importance to us in life.
With every failure, mental toughness is enhanced. We become more aware of our own challenges and levels of commitment, and we gain real insight into the confidence we have in our own abilities and interpersonal skills. Our level of emotional control and life control will also see improvement. Ultimately we, as individuals, define the failures we experience and it is we, as individuals, who need to take the learnings forward and benefit from them.
Failing successfully in your profession
Having experienced my fair share of failures in my own professional life I have taken a great deal from now being able to look at these in a new light. Attending the HR Forum has prompted me to pause and find time to take some learnings from those things I feel I have failed at in the past and in doing so ensure I don’t make the same mistake twice. Perhaps the idea of learning to fail successfully is something we could all benefit from as we progress through our professional careers.
“Success if not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Sir Winston Churchill.