Career advice

Far from being a disaster, failure can be a useful learning experience

Learn from you mistakes and you'll be soon bounce back - read on to find out how.

Sometimes, you just have to accept you were wrong.

Unfortunately there are times when what originally seemed like a great idea just did not work in practice. So how should you deal with failure?

To begin with, the emotional backlash must be overcome, and the situation looked at objectively. You might feel discouraged, but this does not mean you have to lose the passion that motivated you to think creatively and implement your ideas in the first place. Any failure is an opportunity for learning and growth, if it is handled constructively.

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With sufficient determination, a failure could become the first step on a longer journey leading to success. The life and work of Florence Nightingale offers excellent examples of this.

When she was in Crimea, she believed wrongly that the high death rate in the field hospitals was a result of malnutrition and fatigue rather than poor sanitation – an idea that cost an unknown number of lives. Ultimately, learning from her error, her work revolutionised nursing – and no one would regard her contribution to nursing as a failure.

If you want to make the most of the learning opportunities presented by a failed idea, it is important to consider the various steps that brought it about. Rather than simply giving up, it might be possible to modify the way an idea is applied, increasing the chances that it will work in the future – the original concept might just need a minor change or tweak.

Although we might recognise all of this on an intellectual level, it is difficult to look at a failed idea objectively, even more so when it is our own brainchild. When our ideas fail, we see ourselves as failures and can become despondent.

It can also be tempting to place the blame for a failed idea on someone or something outside of ourselves. What we need to remember is no matter whose fault it was, the idea has failed and it was your idea.

Take responsibility without castigating yourself unnecessarily. Own the failure, but do not let it overcome you. Some motivational speakers will even tell you that you should celebrate your failures.

Examining your idea to see why it failed does not mean you should obsess about it. Decide what you should learn from the experience and then leave the failure behind. There are times when you will modify an idea and try it out again, but the failure itself must be viewed in the right perspective and you must move on from it.

Almost every highly successful person will tell you their failures ultimately contributed to their success. There is no reason why the same principle should not apply to you.

The difference between successful people and those who allow failure to overcome them is the courage to keep on trying.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, was once asked if he would continue working on the invention despite his many failures. His response revealed his attitude to failed ideas: ‘I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’

Knowing what does not work is just as important as knowing what will work, and the only way to find out which is which is to keep on trying. Every failure increases our experience and brings us closer to success.

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