Professional Development

Failing up: how to spin failures into gold

Written by Eric Titner

It can be argued that life itself is a learning opportunity, and over the course of each of our lifetimes we’re given opportunities to try new things, engage in new endeavors, and challenge ourselves—and sometimes we’ll be met with success, and other times we’ll have to face failure.

Sure, if given the choice we’d all much rather be successful at everything we try all of the time, but most of us know that life rarely works out that way. Despite our grand plans, sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them too—at times due to things that are in our control and other times the result of forces outside of our control. We have to face the fact that failure is just a part of life.

The work world is certainly no exception. Many of us who’ve travelled along our professional paths for a while, and even some of us who are just beginning our climbs up the career ladder, have had to face failure, including everything from projects that didn’t go according to plan; interactions with colleagues and customers that soured; innovations and ideas that fizzled; business ideas and innovations that failed to work out; and all those big and small moments in which basic human error, lack of focus, and carelessness took hold of and got the best of situations.

Simply put, failure happens to the best of us and happens to the rest of us. But it’s how a person faces it and moves forward that separates the good from the great, and can go a long way toward determining how our professional lives will ultimately pan out.  

Think about it—when you’ve experienced failure in your life, how did you respond? Did you let failure turn into the end of the road for you and decide that since things didn’t work out, it simply wasn’t meant to be or not worth your time to try again? Did you determine that failure was fate’s way of telling you to give up and avoid getting out of your comfort zone and going out on a limb again? Afterward, were you hesitant to make another bold move for fear of failing again? 

Or did you do just the opposite, and decide to make failure an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, adjust, and try again in an effort to find success? Do you confront failure as just a bump along the road to winning? Are you persistent and determined to not let challenging situations deter you from your goals, even when things don’t initially go your way? Do you consider trial and error as a likely an often inevitable part of the journey to success?

Depending on which type of person you are, your experience with failure can seriously impact how you approach life. If you let failure get the best of you and keep you from trying new things, your options and opportunities in life could be drastically limited. Conversely, if you use your failures as learning moments and chances for improvement, then a whole universe of challenges and opportunities for success await. The key questions: Which scenario describes you? Which person do you want to be? If you’d like to be the sort of person who finds success in failure, consider using the following strategies to help you spin failure into gold and set yourself up to achieve your goals.

Be honest when you stumble

Too many of us consider failure to be a source of shame and react poorly to it. Instead of embracing the moment as an opportunity to be humble, express humility, learn, and evolve, we often go into denial mode and ultimately fail to increase the odds that the failure won’t happen again. When failure finds you, be honest about it and recognize its true value—as a chance to learn and grow.

Diagnose the situation with a critical eye

An all-too-common reaction to failure is to make excuses, assign blame outwardly, and ignore the root causes that led you there. A better approach is to try and assess the situation as objectively as possible in an effort to figure out what went wrong and where you could have done things differently—which can go a long way to help making sure that the next time you’re in a similar situation, the chances of success are much more likely.

Let the learning process make you stronger

Never forget that failure finds all of us at some point or another in our lives. A few (or many!) stumbles shouldn’t mean that you pivot away from taking on newer and bigger challenges. Instead, let your failures make you stronger and more confident as you bravely move forward. Find power in the notion that you’re a wiser and better person after learning the valuable lessons that failure provides.

Don’t forget: If you embrace the idea that you can make your failures work for you and can find the strength and courage to fail upwards as you move through life, you’ll be one step ahead of the pack and in a great position to find higher levels of success in all facets of your life.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.