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5 Things to Do When You Fail


It doesn’t seem to matter how often I screw up, I never seem to get used to it. I’ve written at length about the benefits of taking risks, not being afraid to fail and learning from your mistakes. It’s just a lot easier to advise it for others than to practice it for myself.

No matter how risk averse you are though, things don’t always go our way.  When that does happen, mark it up to experience and do your best to learn from it.  Here are some tips for making the best of it.

Assess the impact. Was it really that bad? You may be embarrassed, and your boss may have even had a private conversation with you. But most mistakes are exaggerated in the minds of the culprits. Put it in perspective. If the impact was large, seek opportunities to reduce the impact.

Don’t worry about how you look to others. The main reason most people beat themselves up for mistakes is how foolish they look to their peers. Major League Baseball players make errors on the field in front of thousands – if not millions – of people on a regular basis.  They feel like the goat for a few minutes. But like you and I should do, they suck it up and move on. People wouldn’t worry so much about what others think if they knew how rarely others actually thought about them.

What could you have done differently? Did you really screw up or was it someone’s perception? People often give feedback in the form of, “That’s not how I’d do it.” It doesn’t mean you screwed up.  Maybe they would have screwed it up if they had done it their way. Don’t second guess yourself just because someone questions you.

If what you did do was wrong, take some time to think about it. Write it down if it helps. Write down some of the options you could have considered and how you would do it differently with what you’ve learned.

Related post: How Changing Your Assumptions Will Make You a Better Mentor

How can you apply it to other situations? Now that you know how you would do it differently if the same situation occurs, how can you apply it to other situations? Whether you should have asked for help earlier or you should have notified your boss about an issue, don’t limit your learning to the specific situation.

Don’t swing the pendulum too far the other way. Some people receive feedback on a flaw or a mistake and tend to overcorrect. If someone tells you that you talk too much, you can’t completely clam up and be successful. If you’re confused about feedback you receive, ask what is appropriate. It can also be helpful to watch others to try to determine appropriate behavior.

Making mistakes can be painful and embarrassing. It’s a reminder of our imperfections. But the best way to deal with them is to actively learn from them.  You will never eliminate all of your imperfections, but the more you learn from your mistakes, the more you can reduce them.

For more information, check out Career Management for Mentors

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your questions and comments.