The truth about failure

It's not as bad as you may think

Failure is not only a necessary part of doing business, it’s a part of life. “If you’re not failing on a regular basis, then you’re probably not doing a whole lot,” says Seaborn Morgan, a former manager with Employment & Employer Services Inc., a Chicago-area job counseling, training and placement agency. “How failure affects you is determined by you,” he says. “You’ll either allow it to make you or break you.”

Morgan maintains that successful individuals learn to use failure to their advantage-they acknowledge it, analyze it and overcome it. “They also know that there is more to be learned by focusing on what went wrong than what went right, because the latter only requires modified repetition,” he adds.
In other words, failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Listed below are tips for managing failure:

  • Find your purpose and define your goals. “You have to know what your goal is before you can determine whether you have failed to achieve it,” says Morgan. Find your purpose for doing a particular thing and define your goal in specific, measurable outcomes (see “Going for the Goal!” January 1999). Use them as the criteria for assessing progress, as well as success and failure. For example, if you aim to improve your health, use changes in cholesterol, blood pressure or weight to track how far you’ve come toward achieving your goal.
  • Know your weaknesses. “If you are only as strong as your weakest link, then it is important that you know what that weak link is.” Conduct a self-assessment and look for areas in which you feel most prone to fail. Then, create an action plan to strengthen yourself and respond positively when you do fail.
  • Think of failures as learning experiences. “Failing should be a learning process,” says Morgan. Don’t make excuses for failure; acknowledge and accept it as soon as it occurs. Force yourself to learn from failure by analyzing it and asking the following questions: What was the mistake? Why did it happen? How could it have been avoided? How can I do better next time?
  • Rebound and take more risks. “It’s critical that you get back on the horse,” stresses Morgan (see “Failed But Not Defeated,” Motivation, October 1998). Build your tolerance for failure and resilience by forcing yourself to take more risks as soon as possible. “Once you’ve become complacent with failure, failure becomes routine,” he says.

“Recognize that the more you do, the more you will fail; the more you fail, the more you can learn and the more you learn, the better your chances of succeeding,” Morgan concludes.

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