Why Lessons Learned from Failure Remain Vital for Young Pros

iStock_000013576909XSmallWhat did you fail at today?

I recently read an interview with Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She said the greatest piece of advice she received came in the form of a question from her father: “What did you fail at today?”

As I read that, light bulbs went off in my head. What had I failed at recently?

Nothing… and that’s not good.

Change Your Perspective

All my life I have been afraid to fail. I hated getting bad grades as a child. I cried when I didn’t get into a college I didn’t even want to go to. I spent a month in sheer terror at a public relations job that I loathed.

All because I was afraid to fail. Instead.

Yes, I’d read the million+ blogs on the subject. After all, how could Jobs, Branson, Zuckerberg, GaryVee and Godin – all who have spoken about the need to learn from failure – be wrong? I believed every word they said. But I didn’t actually listen.

And that is when it occurred to me: My last failure, to that point, was not fully embracing failure.

Blakely said when her father asked what she had failed at repeatedly, she learned to embrace failure as inevitable. Regardless of your fear, it’s going to happen – I will, and you will, fail.

So why be afraid?

Celebrate and Learn

Hooray you failed!

Wait… what? That’s right, you failed… and I’m ecstatic.

Failure means you tried. You stepped outside your comfort zone – and you tried. Whatever it was you tried didn’t quite go as planned, but that’s ok. Now here’s the important part.

What did you learn from that specific failure?

In order to learn any lesson from what was most likely a less-than-pleasant experience, you must figure out the “why” of your failure. What went wrong? When did it start going wrong? Who could you have spoken to about the pending failure? What could you have done better? What will you do differently, next time?

My Story

When I finally quit the nightmare public relations job, I was overcome with a sense of relief. Yet at the same time, a small part of me felt like a failure. Total failure. Clearly, I couldn’t hack it in the field I just spent four years getting a degree in. How could I let that happen?

Then, I read an insightful post about what we learn from failing. In that piece, Guy Winch said:

“Failures provide us with vital information about our psychological blind spots we would not have access to otherwise.”

I finally listened. I realized: Failures are crystal balls that give us insight to our work blind spots, the areas that we might constantly be failing in.

It took some time, but I finally was able to take a step back and analyze the situation. Not everything about that job was wrong. I did many things right. I did my job well. Specifically, I really enjoyed the social media aspect of the job.

So I learned my lesson. I embraced my failure. And I shifted my career focus. Today, three years later, I’m thriving in that field. A field I would have never discovered, if it wasn’t for failure.

The Next Step: Learning to Fail Big

As I read the Blakely interview, I realized that I haven’t failed in three years… which means I am not learning as much as I could be. I’m in a complacent rut, where being perfect and never failing has prevented me from getting outside my comfort zone.

What a horrible place to be. How can I expect to achieve any of my goals if I don’t get outside my comfort zone and try something new?

Most of my failures have been little; they can be attributed to a lack of trying… a paralyzing fear.

How can I hit it big if I’m not willing to fail big?

If you’ve failed big, chances are you were reaching way outside of your comfort zone. There’s also a good chance that you now have more resiliency, confidence and emotional intelligence than most of your colleagues and competition… because those people were so afraid to fail – at all, let alone big – they never took a chance.

If you’ve failed big, you’re probably a lot closer to success than you realize. Doesn’t that feel good?

So let me ask you a question: “What did you fail at today?”


LaurenK_AuthorAbout the Author: Lauren Kirkpatrick is YouTern’s Social Media Manager. She graduated from San Diego State in 2011 with a Bachelors degree in Public Relations and University of Southern California in 2013, with a Masters degree in Digital Media.

In her personal life, Lauren is never more than 3 feet from her iPhone or Macbook – she says “they have their own side of the bed” (and our guess is they probably also have their own iNames!). Lauren is a sports junkie, TV aficionado and expert baker. Follow Lauren on Twitter!



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