Notice the cock-ups. Keep the lessons.
Ever had a professional or personal setback? Miscalculated a risk? Applied for the job of your dreams and heard nothing but crickets?
In a society that glorifies success, and encourages equating your job and function with your social standing, noticing and acknowledging failure can be a struggle. While there is not benefit in spiralling into self-doubt when your professional life gives you lemons, there is one in taking note of failures, yours and that of others. Keep track of the obstacles on the way, to better appreciate how unique and sinuous was the path that leads to where you are right now.
Stop and notice when you mess up, then learn from it
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (1), students that were exposed to studying the successes as well as the failures of famous scientists motivated students to better handle their own defeats, compared to students who only learned of the great scientists’ successes. It also deconstructed the prevalent idea that famous scientists must have an innate exceptional talent, but rather made the STEM field more approachable to them, compared to the control group.
Taking note of your own failures can have that effect for others, as well as provide a reflective space for yourself. Further research (2) shows that writing down your failures and focusing on processing both the emotions and making sense of the events around the failure can give you a clearer, more logical perspective on the events.
Celebrating failure is cathartic … and kinda fun!
#1. F*ck-up Nights.
Fuckup Nights is described a global movement and event series that shares stories of professional failure, especially for entrepreneurs. Their in-person events in Brussels up until the pandemic were a hoot, and I can’t wait for those to return. Check out their website for an event near you
#2. Failing fast and furiously
Transformational Coach Josh Lenn developed the workshop series ‘Fail Gloriously’ to encourage teams to get over the fear of failure, and build greater trust in one another. Organisations that want to become bolder and embrace innovation might find a failure festivals one of many exercises to demystify how great ideas. As the late Ken Robinson said, ‘If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.’
#3. My cringiest fails
😬 A staggering amount of applications, proposals and interviews that went nowhere. Still happens 🤷🏻♀️
😬 Overlooked the visa dates on the boss’ trip to Uzbekistan. That was 15 years ago and I still feel awful about it.
😬 Forgot to mention that an offer excluded VAT, quite a few times. Ouch.
😬 Did not dare to tell the interviewer that the sales job did not suit me, but the QA job definitely would. Kept at it for a whole 8 months, and hated it the whole time.
😬 Brain freeze, fumbled the name of the org whose event I was moderating. Big yikes.
📉 Successfully convinced my board to shut down the association I was leading and not extend my contract. This last one was not a mistake so much as an economic and strategic reality. Still, a weird one to explain.
If you wrote a CV of failures, what would it look like?
(1) Even Einstein Struggled: Effects of Learning About Great Scientists’ Struggles on High School Students’ Motivation to Learn Science
(2) Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression https://link.springer.com/article/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10
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