On the Job #FAIL: Game Over?

Let’s talk turkey about a very painful topic:  Failure.

Eeeek!  Run for the hills!

In fact, the idea for this blog post was so uncomfortable that when I posted an APB on LinkedIn groups asking for some help writing about on-the-job failures, do you know what I got?

Absolute radio silence.

Riiiiiight…  so I guess that means that everyone out there is all absolutely flawless and without a fault?

Ahhh….Probably not.  However, this response pretty much confirmed my suspicions and the very reason for the blog in the first place:

Everyone is too scared to talk about their job failures.   In fact, most of us have probably have repressed our slip-ups instead of embracing them.

So why exactly DOES job failure hurt so much, and why are we so darned scared of it?

Business and quality management guru Philip Crosby once said: “Very few of the great leaders ever get through their careers without failing, sometimes dramatically.”

Now we know that even the ‘big dogs’ have failed, but the sting remains: how can failure impact our own lives and / or careers? What if I really screwed up at work, as in a major boo-boo?  What about (gulp)…. me?

In search of the answers, I went to an unusual source: Jason Zasky, editor of Failure<http://www.failuremag.com/> magazine. Yes, you read that correctly.  His magazine is ALL about failure.

“Failure is more interesting than success,” was Zasky’s response when I called on this topic.  “And even more importantly, it’s a universal experience.”

Aw c’mon everyone, time to be honest. We all mess up at some point in our careers, including those squirming, gut-wrenching, and totally anguishing #EPICFAILS.  I’ll even admit my ‘biggie’: when I was in my early 20’s, I utterly derailed a tradeshow I had planned by neglecting the marketing.   OOP-sie…  It was my first big project, and while I executed the event planning/executing flawlessly, the one small detail of working with the marketing person didn’t even cross my mind (are you cringing yet?).  End result: Gorgeous tradeshow with 100% booth sell-out.  Attendance: not so much.

Ouch.  Talk about a lot of steamed (politely speaking) exhibitors… I got an earful but was able to learn from the experience… and never made the same mistake again!

Zasky said that there are three things that prevents the majority of us from properly addressing reasons as to why we have failed at some point in our jobs.  “Failure itself is embarrassing, humbling, and hard to overcome… which then leads to non-action.  You’ve got to confront things head-on, learn from them, and then move on. And never give up.”

So really, it’s what we DO with those failures that really matters?

You betcha.

Failure can keep you from reaching your potential if you let it. While it can be darned uncomfortable once you address it directly, failure can be one of the most compelling learning experiences… that is, if you are willing to embrace it.

In short, you’ve absolutely got to get ‘cozy’ with your failure in order to win the ultimate take-away:  lessons learned.

Today, people more willing to accept failure now and to learn from it.  You can actually see this acceptance dramatically divided along generational lines these days, according to Zasky.  While people who are in their 20’s-30’s today ricochet through failures like a pinball between bumpers, workers born in the Depression-era simply don’t accept the term ‘failure.’   It wasn’t an option offered during their upbringing, and this generation avoids it at all costs.

But failure IS an option today.

In fact, many companies are now rewarding employees for calculated risk-taking… sometimes the endgame has become all about rewarding the risk-taking / lessons learned from failures that can lead to those coveted ‘homeruns.’

What can you learn from this?

Getting too wrapped up in failure is what can hurt your career. Don’t let fear of it rule you.

Finally willing to admit a few career miscues? Take these empowering steps to confront failure:

1)     Admit it. It hurts, but it’s yours and yours alone.  Try not to externalize blame to everyone else.

2)     Do an objective, realistic autopsy of the failure. What parts did you fall down on, and what were some contributing factors that you had no control over?

3)     Discover the hidden ‘nugget.’ How can you either improve what you do, or avoid making the same mistakes?

4)     Don’t let it consume you. You need to be able to accept the failure and move on.

You can and will get over failure.  In hindsight, it can be a powerful experience that no one can teach you.  Turning around and facing it can have positive far-reaching impacts on your career.

Remember, failure doesn’t have to be “GAME OVER” for your career… unless you let it.

One Comment


Hi Dawn!

I hear you on the radio silence! As a risk taker, I have experienced failure many times over – and it must be one of my top contributors to my success!

When I respond to failure with frustration and anger, I haven't taken advantage of it! For example, I asked for a raise and a promotion once and, while my boss vocally agreed that it was appropriate, she dragged her feet on the decision for months. I was so frustrated that I ended up leaving the job. Failure to communicate got in my way.

Another time, I worked on a tech start up that just didn't get the traction that we were hoping for. I have talked about the experience in every job interview since and it taught me a tough lesson that sometimes, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do what you want to do. Talk about a lesson in prioritization!

I find that, for me, failure is all about my emotional reaction to it — and anger and frustration are the worst choices (for me personally).


Comments are closed.