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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Corny, But So True: 3 Life Lessons Failure Teaches You

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“Well, I’ve got that in the bag,” I thought to myself as I strolled out of the office building where I’d just completed a job interview—my second one with a company I was ridiculously excited about.

I walked to my car feeling confident and self-assured. I had an eloquent and thoughtful response for every single question the interviewer tossed my way. She had laughed at my jokes. We even bonded over our love for dogs. I knew I had knocked the meeting out of the park, and I was already picturing my name emblazoned on those glossy new business cards.

A couple of days later, the email I had been anxiously awaiting arrived in my inbox. I clicked it open as fast as I possibly could, eager for the confirmation of the news I was so sure was headed my way. Visions of confetti, a marching band, and the hiring manager leaping out of an oversized cake flashed before my eyes.

But, that good news and rejoicing isn’t what I got. Instead, I quickly skimmed through the email to see all of those cliché lines we all dread reading. They really liked me, but I wasn’t the perfect fit. There were many qualified candidates. It was a pleasure to meet me. Blah, blah, blah.

My heart sunk into my shoes. How could this happen? I thought I had this all locked up. But, things didn’t pan out—I had failed.

You’ll hear a lot of advice and sympathetic anecdotes about failure during the course of your career. And, I’ll be the first to admit it: In the heat of the moment—when your eyes are still teary and your ego is still bruised—they don’t really help all that much.

Yes, the intentions are great. But, when I just want to put on my sweatpants and drown my sorrows in a bottle of wine and a bag of Hot Cheetos, your canned story about the trials and tribulations of Abraham Lincoln goes in one ear and out the other.

Believe me, I can sympathize with you. I know that failure sucks. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. However, it really can still be a valuable learning experience. In fact, there are a few things that you can only learn by failing.

So, when you’ve finally polished off those snacks and are feeling at least somewhat receptive to some constructive encouragement, keep these lessons in mind. Because, no matter what it feels like, that torturous brush with failure really was good for something.

1. There’s Always Room for Improvement

When you’ve failed, it’s human nature to grasp at straws and generate all sorts of excuses as to why this wasn’t your fault. That project was too difficult or the deadline was too short. That client was rude. That company was always going to hire someone from the inside. There was nothing you could do.

However, you’ll never be able to view something as a learning experience if you’re convinced you have absolutely nothing to learn. I’m sure you’re stellar at what you do, but that doesn’t mean you get to coast for the rest of your life.

All of us—I mean it, every single one of us—has areas where we could do better. And, there’s nothing like failure (and that insightful feedback that results from it) to highlight those areas for us in obnoxious, can’t-miss neon yellow.

2. Persistence Is Your Greatest Quality

Everybody fails (but, no, I won’t bring up Abraham Lincoln). It’s an inevitable part of life. You won’t succeed at everything you try. And, if you’re currently operating with that assumption, I hate to tell you that you’ll soon end up sorely disappointed.

However, miserably failing at something quickly reminds you that you can’t let a few stumbles (or even full-blown wipeouts) completely stop you in your tracks. Instead, you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep pushing forward.

You likely have tons of great qualities that make you an awesome person and employee. But, of all of these, persistence is the one that’s going to get you the furthest in your career. Because you won’t ever get anywhere if you insist on staying stuck. Just ask good ol’ Honest Abe.

3. Life Goes On

Here it is: The granddaddy of all cliché career lessons. When you’ve failed at something—particularly something that you really, desperately wanted—it’s all too easy to picture the entire world crumbling down around you like a scene from Independence Day. This is it. You’ll never get past this.

But, if you take one thing from this article, it should be this: The world does not stop turning simply because things didn’t pan out the way you wanted them to. In fact, once you take a minute to breathe deeply and collect yourself, you’ll likely realize that this glitch doesn’t have the devastating and catastrophic effect that you like to think it does when you’re hyped up and over-sensitized.

Yes, life really goes on. And, you need to, too.

I won’t deny it—failure is a tough pill to swallow. It can be pretty brutal, and definitely enough to knock the wind right out of your sails. Believe me, I get it.

But, as with anything, there are helpful lessons to be taken from those situations that tie your stomach into knots and make your eyes well with tears. It’s up to you to glean what you can from them.

Personally, I could write a novel about the many, many setbacks I’ve experienced throughout my life. But, you know what else I could fill those pages with? My successes. And, now that I think about it, those wins were all results of tweaking my approach after previous failures. So, while failing might never be fun, you can bet it will always be valuable.