How to Handle Failure

Failure is an art. And art is subjective.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed in the past 4 years.

Despite being a top student, and having several years of work experience, I failed to secure an internship in grad school (couldn’t even get an interview, or a rejection letter).

Despite having a degree from one of the top institutions in the country, I failed to get a job in an advertising agency.

Once I did have a job? I failed spectacularly – I wore the wrong clothes, said yes to everyone, didn’t stand up for myself, didn’t fight for what I knew was right, let poor decisions slide… I could fill an entire book with my failures.

Outside of work, I started a blog that was doomed to fail from day one, made some not-so-great purchases, stopped taking care of myself, pushed aside my creativity, and turned into a blob. Okay, I didn’t really turn into a blob, but it felt like it with the “wake up, work, eat, work, sleep” rinse and repeat routine I fell into.

We all fail at some point. The key to not letting those failures drag you down is to learn something from them. Here are just a few things that I learned:

1. Be accountable

It was so easy for me to blame recruiters, or managers for my lack-of-employment-opportunities situation. Potential employers didn’t get my application because their system was flawed. Managers were heaping too much work on me, so of course I was stressed, had to work too much, and botched a delivery deadline. Not my fault, right?

Wrong. So, so wrong.

I cringe when I look back at some of my applications. The ones in my “desperate for an internship” phase in particular are the worst. As for my workload, I struggled to communicate with my managers so I’m not actually sure they did know how overwhelmed I was. In both situations, I had the power to change things – or to at least try – but I didn’t.

2. Stick to your guns

I don’t know where this phrase came from, but I’ll thank my mom for introducing me to it. Somewhere in these recent years I lost my spine. I held my tongue and sought the path of least resistance as often as possible. Was I certain we wouldn’t win a job someone wanted to pursue? Yes, but the wasted time and resources wasn’t worth the argument over it. Did I have to give up my nights and weekends for work? No, I really didn’t. But I did anyway because I was afraid of possible repercussions. Did I know, deep down, that the relationship I was in was wrong for me? Yes. But breakups are ugly and I was too tired for that.

3. Remember who you are

A running theme for me in the past year has been my “quarter life crisis”. I struggled to rekindle my creativity, abandoned hobbies I enjoyed, shirked friendships and became a person I did not like. I could see it happening, but couldn’t stop it. I forgot core parts of who I was – creative, happy, and fiercely loyal to my friends. Once I remembered those things, and sought to return to them, everything else fell into place.

I could write a book on my failures, and all the things I’ve learned from them. From professional snafus to social faux pas, I’ve done it all.

Some failures are embarrassing. Some cause unendurable headaches. Some lead to complicated situations. The one thing all failures do is teach.

So now, when I turn tomato red after making a mistake, I shrug it off and look for the lesson. If we learn from our failures, then we haven’t really failed, have we?

If you’re willing, share a failure and what you learned from it with me in the comments. 🙂

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