How do you deal with failure?

Ah, yes the "F" word. This word has so much emotion attached to it. Maybe it is a lay-off, a job you didn’t get, a promotion that went to someone else or a project that went south. What is failure? How does a professional recover from a setback? I have wrestled with this issue both in my own career and helping our clients to have a healthy relationship with failure. Your ability to understand and deal with things that don’t go the way you expect, is one of the most important professional skills to learn.

I read a wonderful quote this past week – "to understand the answer we must first lose ourselves in the question". I wanted to introduce you to a historian who has spent his academic life "losing himself" in the questions about failure.

This weeks podcast is with Scott Sandage, the author of Born Losers – A History of Failure in America. Scott is a Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University. He stumbled upon this topic while wandering around Barnes & Nobles in the self help section and noticed book upon book about success. He wondered about our society’s obsession with success and its partner failure. He decided to focus his Phd on failure. I admire Scott’s ability to look at life and ideas from a different angle. For his research, one of the things he studied was letters that were sent to the Carnegies and other wealthy families of the 19th and 20th century asking for money. It would be like looking at Bill Gates or Warren Buffet’s in-basket today. The letters and documents that he read gave him a unique insight into society’s views on failure and success.

The word loser, or failure, originated in the 16th century and was really only a word used in context with a business or organization. It was only in the 19th century where this word crossed over, and we started to use it in the context of "he failed" or "she is a failure". I think how you define success and failure are the two most important things in both your personal and professional life. Here are some of the common elements of failure and success:

They are both great teachers. The lessons from both are long lasting and take time to become a part of our lives. You are responsible for both. Your actions will lead you down good and challenging paths. Success and failure will follow each other. Without the Apple of the 90’s there would be no IPOD today. They are not personal. Neither chase you, however, they come as a result of living life. There is sweetness in both, success right away and failure in due time.

Keep a short memory and don’t get too attached to either. A healthy life and career will have doses of both. You are not either, but one thing is confirmed – you will experience both. There is a proverb that says "a righteous person falls 7 times and rises again". It is our ability to rise after failures in our lives, and stay grounded in the successful times that will ultimately determine a healthy perspective on our life and our careers. Are you looking for perspective or an opportunity to work through this issue, book an initial consultation.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Continue the conversation and send me an email to alan@careerjoy.com or post to my blog.

Along the road with you,