Long before Arianna Huffington launched Huffington Post, 36 publishers rejected her second book. Before Walt Disney built Disneyland, he was told he lacked creativity. Bill Gates’ first company was a disaster, with a product that barely worked.
Nobody wants to fail, but even the brightest and most successful people have faced this challenge at some point in their careers. Life is a constant seesaw. Most of us teeter between our achievements and our mistakes.
Some mistakes are greater than others. Blowing an important presentation, missing a big sale or losing out on a business opportunity certainly stings, but you know you’ll be able to bounce back. Then, there are times you’ve missed something much bigger. Your failure threatens to crush everything you’ve worked so hard to build. Then what?
Whatever you do, don’t lock yourself into despair. Everyone falls short from time to time, so your ultimate test is how you deal with failure. Pity and self-loathing won’t fix anything. Neither will pretending as if nothing happened.
Here are six simple strategies to help you learn from mistakes and use the experience to set yourself back on the path to success.
1. Accept that failure is part of life.
Embrace your mistake. Don’t try to hide it. Failures don’t somehow work themselves out. They take work, so ignoring the problem only digs a deeper pit.
Remember that mistakes are fundamentally part of the human condition -- the scenic route on your road map to a brighter future. Some degree of failure is inevitable every time we step outside our comfort zone.
Many of the most successful people throughout history had significant failures as well as great accomplishments -- from Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein to Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs. What sets them apart is how they channeled that failure into something positive.
2. Realize it’s OK to get upset.
Whether you’ve hit rock bottom or are facing a series of obstacles, it’s hard not to get frustrated or upset. Let yourself feel those emotions. Instead of trying to push aside your anger, anxiety or resentment, find ways to release the tension. Scream, stomp your feet, or laugh hysterically. Go for a run, or take a walk around the block to clear your head.
Take some time and space to let loose those raw emotions, or they’ll never begin to dissipate. Then, move forward.
3. Reflect on the lessons.
You need to be brutally honest with yourself. What happened? Where did you go wrong and why? Learn from your failure in order to avoid an even bigger problem: repeating the same mistake.
Here are three powerful questions to ask in the wake of a failure:
- What lessons did I learn from this situation?
- What are three positive outcomes of this situation?
- How has this experience allowed me to grow as a person?
This exercise will help you see new opportunities that will arise from this defeat.
4. Own your mistake.
If you’ve been honest about your misstep and learned from the experience, it’s still critically important to take ownership of the situation.
Taking responsibility for your mistake is key to showing others you are an accountable individual who lives with integrity. It might seem counter-intuitive, but putting your mistake front and center will help restore others’ confidence in you. In turn, this will enable you to regain support as you try again.
5. Redefine what failure means to you.
Reframe your failure and redefine your objectives. It could be this is a much-needed opportunity to shift your goals or consider aspirations you’ve too long put aside. You might find yourself on a new and more exciting trajectory.
Re-approach a negative outlook by considering how this failure is part of a bigger life lesson or a valuable experience you couldn’t have gained otherwise.
Robert Spadinger at Pick the Brain has a list of truths that can help you adjust your definition of failure. He believes:
- Failure teaches you that a certain approach may not be ideal for a specific situation but there may be better approaches to consider.
- Each time you fail, your fear of failure diminishes and this allows you to take on even bigger challenges.
- No matter how often you fail, you are not a failure as long as you don’t give up.
6. Take action and move on.
This next step is the biggest test to see if you can rebound from your failure. What solutions do you have to rectify the problem? How can you offset the situation to avoid (or lessen) harm to others? How do you get things back on track?
Deal with your mistake head on, and then advance to the next thing. Start your next project, look at new ventures or consider a new task at hand. Remember your hard-learned lessons as you keep moving forward, and you’ll emerge stronger and more resilient than before.