How Controlled Failure Can Boost Your Success
By Deanna deBara Posted August 30, 2021
Most people don’t enjoy the experience of failing; it can be discouraging to put your time, energy, and effort into something—only to have it not turn out the way you’d hoped or planned.
But there is a silver lining to failing. Failure can lay the foundation for success—if you understand how to leverage the experience of failing to support your goals and growth.
But in what ways does failure contribute to success—and how can you leverage and learn from the experience of failing to become a more successful person, both professionally and personally?
Failing early contributes to later success.
You might think that experiencing a failure early on in your career would set you up for continued failure in the future. But, as it turns out, the opposite is true.
A study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that scientists who failed to secure funding for their research early in their careers were 6.1 percent more likely to publish a significant paper—and, on average, published 3.6 more hit papers—later in their careers than those who succeeded in securing grant money early on.
Or, in other words, an early career “failure” actually set the stage for a higher level of success as their careers progressed.
Early failure can boost your success later on in your career for various reasons; for example, because you experienced an early setback, you may be more willing to put in extra work to hit your goals than people who succeeded from the get-go. Or you may learn from your early failures and be better equipped to deal with challenges in the future than colleagues that weren’t forced to learn those lessons early on.
The point is, regardless of the reason, if you’ve experienced (or are currently experiencing) an early career failure, look at it as an opportunity—an opportunity that can launch you to higher levels of success later in your career.
Failure increases resiliency
There’s no denying that failure is tough. As mentioned, it’s hard to dedicate your time, energy, and effort to something and have it fail.
That experience will knock you down. But there’s a gift in being knocked down—and that’s getting back up.
Think about it this way. No one is invulnerable to failure; it’s something everyone has to deal with at some point or another. But the longer you go without failing, the harder it is to deal with the failure and bounce back—or, in other words, the harder it is to get back up after failure knocks you down.
Failure teaches you how to continue moving forward, regardless of what challenges, obstacles, or setbacks you may face. Failing makes you more resilient, and the more resilient you are, the better equipped you are to deal with the challenges you’ll inevitably face in the future.
Bottom line? The earlier and the more often you fail, the more resilient you’ll be—and the more successful you’ll be as a result.
Failure drives humility—which drives better performance
When you’re facing failure, you’re forced to look at where things went wrong—and, more specifically, how you contributed to things going wrong. Looking at your own shortcomings and mistakes can make you a more humble person. And as your humility increases? Generally, so does your success. Research shows that humility is tied to improved learning and critical thinking skills—and can actually be a better predictor of performance than intelligence (with humility potentially compensating for a lower level of mental ability).
So, as you fail—and become more humble in the process—you can expect to enjoy a host of success-boosting benefits, like higher performance and an increased capacity for learning.
Failure teaches you what not to do
When asked about his failure to produce a working lightbulb, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
There’s an important insight in that quote. Success, in many ways, boils down to trial and error. Understanding what doesn’t work is key to understanding what does.
Or, in other words, generally, you have to fail before you can succeed.
Failure can boost your success by teaching you what not to do—and the more attempts you can eliminate as failures, the closer you’ll be to finding a successful solution.
How to use failure as a jumping-off point for success
Clearly, failure can be a major boost to success. But failing is guaranteed to make you more successful; if you want to leverage your failure to increase success, you need to use your failure to lay the foundation for success in the future.
But how, exactly, do you do that? Here are a few tips to turn a setback into a comeback—and use failure as a jumping-off point for success:
- Embrace it. You can’t grow or learn from failure—or use it to foster future success—if you try to fight it. Next time you fail, try to keep a positive outlook. Instead of beating yourself up for failing and focusing on how you could have done better, embrace the failure—and look for ways it can make you better in the future.
- Look for the lesson. As mentioned, it’s important to look for ways failure can make you better in the future. But you can’t use failure to improve if you don’t learn from it. When you fail, make sure you’re exploring why—and identifying any key lessons you need to learn before you try again.
- Ask for feedback. Sometimes, it can be hard to see through our own failures and identify our mistakes, learnings, or growth opportunities. In those situations, ask a trusted mentor, colleague, or friend for their insights into how you can transform your failure into success in the future.
- Keep moving forward. Getting stuck in your failures isn’t going to help you succeed. When you fail, take all the steps necessary to set yourself up for future success (like looking for the lesson and asking for feedback); then, move on.
What has failure taught you in your career? Let us know in the comments.
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