How to Deal With Failure, From Two People Who Have Made it to the Other Side

When it comes to failure, there are plenty of things you expect. A bruised and deflated ego, for one, plus plenty of wallowing, pity parties, a hefty dose of uncertainty, and maybe one too many pints of Ben and Jerry’s.

There’s no doubt about it—failure can be brutal. But, once you’re over the initial shock and dust yourself off, there’s another adjective that can fit the experience: enlightening.

In fact, if you’re willing to swallow your pride and learn from your blunders, failure can be the thing that propels you right to the other side of the spectrum—success.

Sound impossible? Rest assured. Here’s how to turn your own losses into wins, with stories from people who did it themselves.

1. Keep Your Expectations High

You’ve missed the mark, and now you’re tempted to lower your expectations to better match your perceived lack of talent. It’s human nature—by reining in your goal, you think you’ll increase your chances of actually hitting said goal, and you won’t have to experience failure again quite so soon.

But not so fast. Remember, failure is a learning experience—not an opportunity to downgrade your standards. If you truly want this disappointment to be the thing that propels you toward success, it’s smarter to keep your eye on the prize.

“Set the bar high,” explains Kathy Jack-Romero, Regional President of USA Today Network, “If we lower the bar in terms of expectations for ourselves, we’re human and we will step back and just get to the bar.”

When you fail, resist the urge to adjust the objective. Instead, adjust your approach.

2. Lean on Others

A solid venting session always feels good after you’ve had a major misstep. But, the people in your network can serve a purpose beyond just being a shoulder to cry on—they can often be the boost you need to pick yourself up and get to the next level.

Kathy witnessed the importance of support after her and her team experienced a setback in their department. On the same day, they unexpectedly lost their largest advertiser and their two top-level clients changed their investments.

“It was a blow, and mentally my team and I were not prepared for it,” she says.

But, Kathy and her crew pulled together to put in the necessary legwork and bounced back from failure even better than before.

It can also be helpful to solicit advice from others in your network. You’re not the first to fail (and you won’t be the last!). So, if there’s someone who has been in a similar situation that you could learn from, don’t hesitate to share your own experience and start a productive conversation.

I know, it’s tempting to shut yourself off from the world after you’ve failed. But, relying on others—whether it’s friends, family, co-workers, managers, or mentors—is a smarter, and ultimately more constructive, strategy. Nobody gets through anything alone.

3. When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough… (Well, You Know The Rest)

When you’ve failed, it’s tempting to shut down, bury your head in the sand, and hide from the inevitable feeling of shame or embarrassment, especially when your “failure” isn’t something you’re responsible for.

Take it from Jeff Ehmann, Project Lead for Gannett Commerce Solutions. After he fell from a third floor roof, shattered his spine, and found himself in a wheelchair, he very well could’ve just tapped out. “It would have been easier to just retire on disability,” he explains, “But I wanted to provide more from my family.” So instead, Jeff maintained a positive attitude and vowed to learn from his fall.

Today, after numerous months of rehab, he’s back to work full-time in a career he loves. And beyond that, he says his tragic accident taught him something important. “Without experiencing this, I never would have truly understood what my priorities were and are,” he says.

In short, maintain an open mind and be willing to treat your failure as a learning experience—rather than the end of the road.

4. Don’t Discount the Process

While staying focused on success can be important, it doesn’t mean that you should discount the entire process and neglect to celebrate the journey (I’ll spare you the cheesy, commencement address-worthy sentiments).

Think about it this way: The sheer act of picking yourself up, getting over your fear of failure, and trying again is a win in and of itself.

Rather than continuing to obsess over your stumbles, make sure you take time to acknowledge the progress you’ve made.

Make a list of the valuable things you’ve learned so far—failure and all. Lean on your friends and loved ones to provide a confidence boost when you need one. Remind yourself that good things don’t just happen—they often take time, commitment, and a few blunders.

As much as we all detest it, failure is an inevitable part of the growing process. Very few successes happen without any missteps.

So yes, failure might stand between where you are now and where you eventually want to be. But with some hard work and an open mind, you’re much more likely to get yourself across that finish line.

“Stuff happens,” Jeff concludes, “It’s how you deal with it that counts.”

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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