Many students, myself included, have been fortunate enough to have numerous positive childhood experiences in academics, sports, and/or music. My generation and the one to follow may have been raised on the stress of standardized testing, but we have also thrived on the "everyone is a winner" mindset. In fact, many of us haven't been introduced to “failure” in our early education and experience. So when the inevitable time comes, it becomes apparent that we honestly don’t have the tools to deal with, nor how to get beyond, failure. In short, we “never learned to fail.”
As I return to school this fall and see the faces of so many new students, freshmen to graduates, I notice that panicked look of “what have I gotten myself into?" and "what if I make mistakes? If I don’t cut it...” Fortunately, Eastman has an incredibly supportive system, a terrific orientation and appropriate stepping-stones to guide students to the appropriate tools and people. None-the-less, the fear, especially in such a competitive field, can be overwhelming. So, how do you put failure into perspective and move on?
In May of 2014, the art-focused entrepreneurial website Profitalist posted an article on just that. Olivia Gregory's How to Fail Forward, offers some insights and ideas on how to “turn individual failures into life lessons leading to future success.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more reasoned and helpful approach to putting failure into perspective - ”failure can be one of our greatest catalysts to success.”
"1. Acknowledge that failure is going to happen sometimes. This acknowledgement is not a justification for laziness or for giving up. But simply acknowledging that failure will occur at some point in our lives frees us to live with more abandon—an attitude that often leads to greater success in many ways.
2. Recognize that failure can be the best teacher. I know this from my own life, and I see it played out in the lives of my children. How do we best learn things? By experiencing them, of course. My son’s poor grades on a report card can urge him to do better (especially if I stay out of the way!) in the same way a failed business idea can prompt me to rethink how I want to do things in the future. Our own failures bring much, much more clarity to the situations we face than any amount of advice from someone else.
3. Believe that identity is not defined by failure. I believe this is one reason why I shied away from failure so much in my younger years. I falsely believed that, if I failed, I was then a FAILURE. This faulty logic did me much harm then and still haunts me today as an adult. Our identities as entrepreneurs are not defined by whether or not we succeed at particular tasks. Failure can teach us and guide us, but it cannot define us.
Making your mistakes work for you requires a shift in perspective, but it is a shift that is well worth the effort. Here are some questions you can ask yourself the next time you miss the mark:
What decisions led me to this moment?
Are there any things I would do differently, knowing what I know now?
How can I use this in the future to make my life better?
Embrace your failures. Sometimes they’re exactly what you need for success."
Now I don’t believe for a minute that these concepts will take the sting out, nothing will, but I do think they offer sound suggestions as to how to cope, put failure into perspective, and move forward. It is mindset that is crucial to the proverbial brushing yourself off and getting back on the horse again.