“The worst possible outcome of trying a work task and then failing is probably transient embarrassment. You might be embarrassed for a while, but that will fade. The residue hopefully will be a valuable learning experience. Trial-and-error learning is a time-honoured process and one familiar to most successful people.”
Fred Orr, How to Succeed at Work, Unwin, Sydney, 1987, p.30.
When the famous inventor Thomas Alva Edison wanted to make a nickel iron alkaline battery, we are told he performed 50,000 experiments, and failed 50,000 times. Someone who knew about this asked if all these failures had disappointed him.
‘Not at all,’ replied Edison, ‘for I have learned 50,000 ways it cannot be done, and therefore I am 50,000 times nearer the final experiment!’
And, of course, he eventually did succeed. His failures were simply stepping stones to success.
“You measure the size of an accomplishment by the obstacles you have to overcome to reach your goals.”
Booker T. Washington
Here’s an idea
Salespeople can’t afford to throw in the towel when they get rejected. Like the best salespeople, to keep yourself in the right frame of mind at work, remember the letters SW-SW-SW-N. They stand for an old saying in sales: Some Will, Some Won’t, So What . . . Next! If someone says no and won’t budge, deal with the rejection, put it behind you, and move on to the next prospect.
See success for what it is; see knockbacks, even failures, as learning experiences.
Scare yourself – and grow
When was the last time you found yourself in a scary, challenging, or intimidating situation? If you can’t remember, then you’re probably not testing your limits. Chances are you’re just coasting along, content with your lot in life.
But in order to grow professionally, to overcome any fear of failure, we need to break out of such ruts and seek out fresh, difficult challenges. The scarier, the better.
Here are a few tips for facing some typical challenging situations:
- Tackle your most intimidating task first thing in the morning. Most people put off what they fear until last. Their day is then spent worrying about what’s to come. Get the tough stuff out of the way early to make the most of your day.
- Channel your fear into positive energy. Fear can cripple, so take action to control it before it controls you. Turn that energy into your favour.
- Say ‘yes’ to scary situations. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? It’s usually not as bad as you think!
- Recall past successes. Once, we couldn’t walk, talk, read, ride a bike… and probably didn’t think we ever would. Tackling difficult situations isn’t so different. With practice, tasks that on the surface seem difficult first time round will one day become second nature to us.
- Learn from mistakes. Learn to laugh at your mistakes – they’re an important part of growing in the job. And, just like muscles, our management skills grow when pushed to the brink of failure.
Hold monthly failure meetings
Once a month, get together with your employees for a “failure” meeting. Go around the room and ask everyone to name their biggest disappointment in the past month. Then, ask them to list five things they learned from the incident. It’s a great way to make sure everyone learns from failures. Those who say they don’t have a failure may not be thinking creatively enough or taking enough risks in their responsibilities. Let everyone know that you expect a certain amount of failure – it comes with the territory if you’re trying to be as creative as possible.
Afraid to fail?
Then read this! Most people don’t succeed because they are afraid to fail. Robert Schuller, in Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do, says it’s important to put failure into perspective:
- Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure… it does mean you haven’t succeeded yet.
- Failure doesn’t mean you have accomplished nothing… it does mean you have learned something.
- Failure doesn’t mean you have been a fool… it does mean you had a lot of faith.
- Failure doesn’t mean you have been disgraced… it does mean you were willing to try.
- Failure doesn’t mean you don’t have it… it does mean you have to do something in a different way.
- Failure doesn’t mean you are inferior… it does mean you are not perfect.
- Failure doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your life… it does mean you’ve a reason to start afresh.
- Failure doesn’t mean you should give up… it does mean you should try harder.
- Failure doesn’t mean you’ll never make it… it does mean it will take a little longer.