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Embracing and Celebrating Failure in a "Must Win" Culture

"What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?" Has anyone ever been asked this question? I know I have. And I HATE this question. It further embeds the belief that failure is the opposite of success. That you shouldn't attempt something if you might fail at it. When in reality, anyone that has been successful at anything, knows that you will fail MANY times on the road to success.

And I am in good company with my belief here. Check out quotes about success and failure from many "successful" people.....

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” - Thomas A. Edison

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” - Henry Ford

“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” - Robert T. Kiyosaki

“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I've met people who don't want to try for fear of failing.” - J.K. Rowling

So why are we so adverse to failure? Why do we assume failure is a bad thing and we should avoid it at all costs? That we shouldn't try something unless we know we will be successful at it.

I tend to think it is because failures are usually "behind the scenes." You don't see people post on their social media about the business they started that failed, or the college course they got a C in. You don't see people post about their weight gain, their marital problems, or the job they interviewed for but didn't get. Conversely, most of our social media feeds and new stories are filled with stories of success - celebrations, anniversaries, job promotions, weight loss, new homes.

What you don't always see are the blood, sweat, and tears that went into these successes. The number of times someone was told no before they got a yes. The bids they didn't win, the job interviews that didn't work out, the 20 terrible dates they went on before they found their spouse. You don't always see the frustration, heartache, and pain behind their success. It is there though - trust me. And I love meeting people who aren't afraid to be vulnerable and share that with others. It can inspire others to take a risk, and to get back up and try again when they hit an obstacle.

So, I will be vulnerable with you for a minute. When I am asked about my career at Comcast Business, I talk about the different roles I have held at the company. In an 8 year time span, I have held 4 different roles. Yes, could sound impressive on paper. However I recently looked at my job application history and realized I have applied for 5 other roles internally that I didn't get. Of course no one knew that. Until now :) At the time the job rejection letters felt like failures. In hindsight, it is much easier to understand why I didn't get those roles and why my life has continued down a different path.

So why I am writing this blog? It's because I have been guilty of it myself. Spending too much time and energy dwelling on failure. Replaying scenarios in my head and wondering what I could have done differently to change the outcome. And guess what - I am done doing it and I want to inspire you to do the same. Easier said than done? Yes. But here is how I have learned to not only cope with these alleged "failures," but how I have learned to grow from them.

  1. First, when life throws me that curveball and I don't get what I want, I let myself sulk and wallow for 24 hours. That can be whatever I want at the time - a bottle (or two) of wine, an indulgent dessert or cheat meal (or both), a Netflix binge, a good cry. I let myself feel the hurt of rejection for a day. I don't try to tough it out and ignore it. Rejection hurts and it's okay to admit that and express those feelings for a bit. But that's it. After 24 hours, I am picking myself up and moving on.

  2. Second, I ask myself this question - What did I learn from this experience? Every. Single. Time. there is something to learn and become wiser about. What did I learn about myself in the process? How can I use what I learned to be better positioned for the next opportunity that comes my way? Because YES, there will be other opportunities.

  3. Seek Feedback. Whether it is from the person who rejected me, the person I interviewed with, or a trusted advisor or friend. It's important to gain self-awareness around why things worked out the way that they did. Yes, this requires putting your pride aside, being vulnerable and open to criticism, but it is SO important to your growth and development as a person. You can't address and work on things, if you are not aware that they need your attention. And for those that are asked to deliver feedback - please be honest. You can give someone feedback in a constructive and helpful way. Yes, it may hurt their feelings, but if they ask, then please assume that they want the truth, and give it to them. Tactfully of course.

  4. Change course if you need to - it's okay! Maybe you have had time to consider why you experienced this failure, and you have received feedback from others and reached a conclusion - it's time to change course. Close a chapter and start a new one, change careers, end a relationship, start over. As we like to say in the South, "Don't cry over spilt milk." What is done is done, and it is okay to make a change to your story. Don't worry about what other people may think. You have to look yourself in the mirror each day and you must stay true to yourself. So maybe you got that law degree, but a year into your career, you decided you don't want to practice law. Yes, it may be an expensive choice to make, but is it worth staying in a job you hate for the next 30+ years?

  5. And most importantly - get back out there! Keep taking risks, don't be afraid to fail again. The most successful people out there aren't the ones that didn't fail; they are the ones that refused to quit. They aren't usually more talented or smarter than you are. They just kept going through the tough times. They learned from and understood the reasons they failed in the past and were deliberate about growing and learning from those experiences.

When you fail, pat yourself on the back. It means you tried. You took a chance on something. You LIVED YOUR LIFE! Don't be ashamed of not getting it right the first, third, fifth, or tenth time. Be upset with yourself for not getting off the sidelines and taking that risk because you were scared of the outcome. If you fail - so what? It gives you a chance to learn and grow, and be a little more ready for the next opportunity.

We have limited time on this earth. That fact alone should motivate and inspire you to do everything in your power to create the life you want. So cheers to that next "no," the next failure, and the next heartbreak! It means you are just that must closer to your next success!


Holly B.


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