When you’ve failed

Have you been trying to take something to a new level in 2018? Maybe your job, your relationships, or your business?

How’s it going?

While I’d love to assume it’s going well, chances are good that you’ve found it difficult already.

So, here’s the bad news: Improvements mean new chances at failure. And most of the failures begin on the second day of trying to make things better. 

Perhaps this is one of the lessons that January offers us. You have a chance to start over and try again, to do even better than before. And, you may fail – perhaps spectacularly. 

With each step up the stairs, we have farther to fall. 

In the past year I’ve taken my business to a whole new level. For me, it was unprecedented success, coupled with a whole new batch of embarrassing missteps. Can I go back in time to revise? No. But I can learn from these mistakes, and I have a “New Year” reset button. So do you.

“But it’s already the second week of January!” you may cry. Is it too late to hit that reset button?

Here’s the good news: It’s not too late. 

I haven’t indulged in much video gaming in the last decade, but back when Final Fantasy VII was all the rage, I was INTO IT, man. (I finished the game two or three times.) And I found the secret to success: Save often, and don’t even blink when you fail. Hit the reset button and pick up where you left off.

The first steps in any new role (or at any new level of work or relationship) can be awkward and full of blunders. The learning curve might be steep, and the stumbles that come along the way can result in scraped knees and burnt egos.

We may not have the luxury of a reset button that actually erases all our mistakes, but we can pick ourselves up and pick up where we left off. How can we survive this treacherous landscape? Here are some of the things I have learned to do:

  1. Recognize that failure is part of the process. 

Just because we stumble does not mean we are unable or inadequate. It just means we have not yet developed all the skills and knowledge that we will need to do it well. If you have a concrete skill to master, you will develop it to a great extent after only 20 hours of practice. (That 10,000 number you may have heard about refers to becoming the best in the world. If you’re okay with “good enough,” aim for 20 hours.) 

For other skills that aren’t so concrete (like those pesky relationship skills), sometimes we have to keep traveling the learning curve. Continuing to grow as a person and allowing yourself to continue learning will be of great benefit.

Ross Perot said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.” Don’t let that be you. Remember that people who have experienced tremendous success got there by failing first. 

  1. Continually ask yourself, “What am I learning? What should I do differently next time?” 

Part of the reason perfectionism destroys us is because we don’t allow ourselves to be people who learn, who need to learn. I once was so allergic to being criticized that I couldn’t stand the thought that I still had skills to develop, that I might not be perfect every single time. I thought “keep improving” meant “start perfect and get better from there.”

(Fortunately, receiving feedback – even criticism – is one of those skills you can develop.)

My clients have told me it helps to keep track of everything they are learning. You can focus on giving yourself credit for the knowledge you are developing. In school, we get to study what someone else has instructed us to do, and then we take a test on it. Our own mistakes and failures are the form that these lessons take in adulthood.

  1. Make the adjustments that need to be made and keep moving. 

Once you have learned the lesson, let go of the regret. The only value in learning, “I shouldn’t have done that,” comes with actually changing your approach. Do not stop or give up – get back in there and capitalize on what you are learning.

I once worked with a software consultant who camped out in my office while my workgroup was beta-testing a new document management system. Every time I experienced a problem with the software, I would call him over and complain, but instead of getting defensive he always responded with fascination and glee: “Cool!” 

Why on earth was he so excited? Because we had actually found a problem he could fix while he was there. I was giving him a chance to do his job. If everything had gone swimmingly, he would have been bored.

If everything in your life were easy all the time, you would eventually get bored. We need challenges and a little stress to stay engaged, interested, and growing. It is the wind that strengthens the apple’s hold on the tree.

Of course, most of us know that challenge and stress can become too much. If that’s where you are, slow down, recognize that you are still learning, and give yourself credit for what you are learning. 

Change course and move on.


If a lack of success has doused your leadership fire, please download my free training,

5 Smart Ways to Reignite Your Leadership  – A video training to rekindle your leadership passion. 



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