Years ago I was in an interview for a big freelance opportunity and my almost future boss asked me, "What was your biggest professional failure?" The question really freaked me out since I did not want to expose my vulnerable side or my true weaknesses. I was trying to land the job and show him why I would be a rock star hire. I fumbled through the rest of the interview and left feeling deflated and lacking confidence for job that I knew I could do very well.
My professional evolution into a self-confident and empowered career woman has been slow and steady. I can honestly report that I am still a work-in-progress and always will be. That bungled job interview taught me a valuable lesson. The interviewer was trying to see if I had the humility to admit that I failed, the ability to bounce back and learn from my mistakes, and the courage to move forward. I was so stuck in not wanting to expose my flaws that I blew a teachable moment for me and for my almost boss.
In my career, I juggle a hybrid of responsibilities as an intra-preneur in my day job and my entrepreneurial world of public speaking and consulting. It's exhilarating, challenging, rewarding and sometimes really scary. I often feel like I am flying without a net but I have since learned to embrace failure because no matter what happens, I choose to move forward. Failure should not be a mark of shame, but a badge of honor showing the world that you are willing to try again.
Here are some of my failure lessons that may help you navigate the next bump on your professional road.
Assemble Your Support Group. It's no surprise that failure hurts emotionally and often bruises your ego the most. Make sure you have unconditional supporters in your life who will let you talk it out, work through the pain, and help bring you back to emotional normalcy. Active-listeners are essential as you process your failure and begin to learn from these mistakes.
A Twenty-Four Hour Pout Period. Whether it's a lost job, a denied promotion or a failed business, give yourself time to grieve this loss. Deepak Chopra wrote very eloquently that healing takes time and denial makes healing take longer. He suggests spending minimal time commiserating and indulging in "what if" scenarios and making a clean break with the past so you can focus on the future. I give myself a 24-hour pout period when I can really rant, rave and vent my emotions. It's cathartic and clears the deck emotionally for what is next.
Give Up The Guilt. As a 40-something woman, I can finally say with confidence that guilt is a useless emotion. It took me a really long time to get to this point but I'm here and I'm never going back to succumbing to guilt. Skip the shame, we ALL fail. Shit happens and sometimes things don't work out as we planned. Welcome to real life! Embrace constructive criticism, fight perfectionism because it's unattainable and debilitating, and focus on what you do well -- not what others think. Chances are, the others are not really thinking about you anyway. Move on!
Take Risks Again. Take the time to unpack your failure and figure out what you have learned but don't let the set back deter you from moving forward. If you stop taking risks you will become inert and lose your mojo and your nerve. Be a disruptive innovator, take a chance again and learn how to fail forward. Go big or go home!
Remember that all successful people have dealt with failure. Steve Jobs was fired from the Macintosh division of Apple. J.K. Rowling was turned down 12 times by publishers for her Harry Potter manuscript. Decca Records turned down the Beatles and Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first newscaster job because she got too emotionally involved in her stories. Enough said.
I wish you great success in your professional future. When you fail - celebrate it for what it is and move on!
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is the Director of Professional Enrichment at the Indiana University Alumni Association and hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm ET. Caroline also contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and More Magazine online and is working on a 3-pert series for Public Television on career empowerment for women. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
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