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How Do You Respond to Failure?

Patrick Nelson, April 4, 2016

How to Move Past Failure

Think of one of your biggest failures. How did you respond? Did you kick yourself while you were down or did you pull yourself up?

Leaders understand that failure happens. They do not ruminate on the failure; rather they work to process their emotions so they can eventually view it as a small bump on their road to success.

Failures can be embarrassing and a blow to our ego. I experienced that first hand when I had the honor of competing in a Major League Baseball pre-game homerun derby. I swung and missed on every single pitch in front of thousands of people. I felt mortified and nervously made an attempt to laugh at myself as the cameras zoomed in on me and plastered my face on the scoreboard.

Mind you, this was an inconsequential failure – it had no impact on my family, my health, or my professional career, but it felt very real to me. It made me think about times in my career when I had failed and my mistakes meant real loss – and it sent me on a journey to explore how others handles mistakes, missteps, and even being told “no.”

Like Fred Smith, a pioneer whose original business idea was rejected. When he was in college, he conjured up an idea for a parcel business that would deliver packages overnight. He presented this idea to his business class and nearly received a failing grade because his professor thought the idea was impractical. Several years later, Mr. Smith created FedEx.

We all have failures and disappointments. How we respond to them, though, makes a big difference in the results we experience. Here are several steps you can take the next time things don’t work out as you planned:

  • Don’t let failure define you. You may not have found success yet but that does not mean that you are a failure. Taking it personally will have a negative impact on your confidence and self-esteem.
  • Failure = Learning. Failures can be valuable learning opportunities. In his quest to invent the light bulb, Thomas Edison said “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Take accountability. Many times we are quick to point at external factors for our failures. The quicker you accept responsibility, the quicker you can start moving forward again.
  • Open communication. We are surrounded by people who have all failed. Share your experience and ask others for their advice on what you can do differently.
  • Second chances exist. Most failure you will face is not life threatening. A lot of times there are do-overs. Take advantage and do not give up.

 Whether it is failing in front of thousands of people or your fellow classmates, how you respond will dictate your journey towards success.

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