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Author: Arundel Stevens

Embracing Failure: Learning and Growing from Setbacks

Person in business attire jumps onto green paper airplane while fleeing from sinking red paper airplanes and red crumpled balls of paper. Pieces of paper fall to the ground, and the scene is set against a bright blue backdrop with red at the bottom.
Illustration by Marcello Burdis

Embracing Failure: Learning and Growing from Setbacks

by Arundel Stevens

Failure is painful and difficult, but it can also provide opportunities for growth and improvement. Whether you made a small mistake in a social environment, misspoke in an interview, lost a career advancement, or sent an email to the wrong person, it’s possible to use your mistakes for good and self-growth. 

Why is failure so painful?

We know that failure is in human nature, and we certainly know that everyone makes mistakes. So, why do we still take failure so badly? Well, because failing is embarrassing! Anyone would love to appear perfect, but that simply isn’t possible. Most people have an inherent perfectionist nature that may prevent them from accepting failure. However, if you refuse to accept failure, you may miss out on important opportunities for growth! Learning to acknowledge your own imperfections can change your life and your mindset and yield incredible results!

How do I embrace failure?

The first step is always to admit personal error. For example, if you miss an important meeting, you should take accountability for the mistake and apologize for the miscommunication.

But what about when your failure doesn’t seem like your own fault? For instance, if you are participating in a group project and another person’s lack of preparation makes you look bad, how can you take accountability? Maybe you could have communicated better with that member. Maybe you should have spoken to a superior about the member’s lack of participation. There’s normally some aspect of failure for which you can take accountability! The most important part of embracing failure is making sure that you don’t displace blame. It may seem easier and less painful to blame another person for your failure, but it’s important to notice your own shortcomings and recognize what you could have done differently.

This doesn’t mean that you should dwell on your mistakes. It can become easy to get stuck in the rut of self-criticism, especially when you are trying to take accountability. Taking accountability and reflecting on your mistakes is ONLY beneficial when it leads to self-growth. Your mistakes often don’t reflect on your overall competence! Just because you made a few mistakes does not mean you are incompetent or unintelligent, it just means you have room to grow. 

How does failure lead to growth?

Motivation, creativity, and experience! When you make mistakes, learn to switch your focus from dwelling on the past or refusing to take any blame. Instead, let your failures motivate you to work harder! You didn’t get the job you wanted, so you take a workshop on succeeding in job interviews. Let your failures inspire you! Oftentimes, large failures are just big ideas that need to be tweaked a little. Think about the aspects of your failure that could be improved, and remember that every idea has potential! Don’t give up on something just because it didn’t work out the first time. Lastly, a rounded and experienced background consists of failures and mistakes. A common question in job interviews is, “When did you make a mistake or experience failure, and how did you react?” Employers want to know your reaction to failure for a reason: it shows that you can successfully navigate problems and learn from your mistakes! Even in a non-work environment, social relationships and partners need to be able to learn from their mistakes and accept responsibility for failures. Embracing failure, in any context, yields lifelong results and unmatchable skills.

 

Failure may be painful, but it also expresses our humanity! No one goes through life without making mistakes; it’s just important to harness your errors and use them for self-improvement. The next time you make a mistake, attempt to use that failure to better yourself. You will find that identifying your failures and working to improve upon them will not only help you in the long run, it will also make you feel better!

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