ired from her first presenting role at US network WJZ after a few months, Oprah Winfrey publicly considers the loss of her job “the first and worst failure” of her television career. Although the ‘Queen of Television’ and media mogul moved on to bigger and better things – namely a $3billion media empire – she retains that first scar as her greatest learning curve, which she integrates into her work; "the only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.” Blunt as her words are, there’s no escaping the truth; failure is as inevitable as it is necessary.
The reality of the learning curve doesn’t discriminate. Aptly known as ‘life’s greatest teacher’, it’s essential to make peace with the fact that some of the best lessons your career will give you are the mistakes you make yourself. Welcoming failure with open arms is by no means easy but like anything that matters, it’s a painful process that comes with the territory of progression. Although throwing ourselves into the fire isn’t always the most productive response, learning from those who have is the first step. Journalist Harriet Minter leads by example, in being conscious of the reality of our roles; “the mantra I personally live by is ‘ships are safe in the harbour, but that’s not what ships are made for.’ The idea that you can sit where you are and be totally safe is not only false, it is not what we are here to do.” Indeed, failure is life’s greatest teacher and embracing the fact that no one else will give you a more succinct lesson is the best way to ready yourself for impact. Use these 4 lessons as your airbags.
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To Accept That It’s Real
Like all great hurdles in life, admitting an obstacle is real and how it will affect your career is the first step to overcoming it. It’s no secret that most people are unwilling to state publicly that they have failed but in reality, solidarity has never been more key. Paul Hudson of Elite Daily lays the ground rules for accepting that you will make mistakes with the humbling thought of acceptance; “Some of your largest failures in life will become your greatest assets. Some day you will realize that if you had never failed, then you would have never succeeded.” Likewise, career-expert Penelope Trunk prides herself on her public admittance of her failure, something she discussed with Silkarmour last year; “when I looked around, I saw that it has happened to others. Lots of people have the same kind of experience, but they spin it like they’re God’s gift to entrepreneurship, so I just started re-framing things.” Accepting the inevitability of failure turns it into the stepping stone you need to progress; take a deep breath, admit the wrong and regroup.
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The sting from failure is always painful; what the pain teaches you however, is how to learn from it, allowing you to use it to your advantage. Sim Sitkin discussed the riveting notion of “intelligent failures” with Harvard Business Review; the idea that failure is presented in an incorrect context, meaning the value of our results are automatically misplaced. “’Trial and error’ is a common term for the kind of experimentation needed in these settings - but it is a misnomer, because ‘error’ implies that there was a ‘right’ outcome in the first place.” In assigning the negative connections to failure, we limit ourselves in wanting to avoid failing when in reality, making – and learning from – mistakes equals progress. When reaching a moment of clarity in which you can see your error and avoid to avoid it; dive straight back into your action plan to move forward. Relish what you’ve learned from your error and commend yourself for trying as multiple incidences will remind you, the bigger the failure, the bigger the learning curve.
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Sarah Blakely, founder of Spanx, had to answer one question every day from her father after school; ‘what did you fail at today?’ “What he did was redefine failure for my brother and me,” Blakely told CNN, “and instead of failure being the outcome, failure became not trying. And it forced me at a young age to want to push myself so much further out of my comfort zone.” In placing a bigger emphasis on areas of improvement, Blakely’s father redefined failure for her during her childhood, teaching them the essential link it has to growth. Failure, in Blakely’s eyes, became the way to grow and progress in her education and later, business venture. Now with a personal net-worth of $1billion since September 2013, the lessons Blakely grew up with are something we should all adopt into our own ways of thinking; investing more value in growth and progress ensures better and more efficient results in the long-run. Accepting failure kindles personal growth and develops the armour needed to venture through new and equally challenging situations.
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To Become Resilient
Reach rock bottom forces you to re-evaluate your priorities. Resiliency comes hand in hand with any venture; no progress is made without being able to bounce back. “Pushing to the edge of your ability is equivalent to stretching to the point of defeat” argues psychologist Martin Seligman, “which means that failure will be a frequent companion on the road to eventual success.” As noted in his book, Louder Than Words, Martin made the substantial point that long-term goals require short-term errors, in order to experience, learn and move on; ultimately, to be resilient. “If you want to succeed in the long run, you must be willing to fail in the short-run. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not pushing yourself.” Turning failure in to a stepping stone guarantees progress as you push yourself forward and get that little bit closer to where you need to be. In the famous case of J.K. Rowling and her venture into literature, “rock bottom became the solid foundations on which I re-built my life” - a life and legacy that wouldn’t have happened without resiliency. Set goals and go forth with a contingency plan.
Words by Shannon Blanks