Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
– Samuel Beckett
How can you not love an article that touts the benefits of failure with a cover photo of actor Alec Baldwin? In its January 2010 issue, Wired magazine had a series of articles entitled “How to Fail” that focuses on the opportunities inherent in failure if we’re wise enough (and paying enough attention) to reframe them as learning opportunities.
That’s the premise of lead article “The Neuroscience of Screwing Up” by Jonah Lehrer, which examines scientific research as the poster child of accidental discoveries based on dashed expectations and failed experiments. Missteps, wrong paths taken, world-class screw-ups – pretty much the hallmarks of a life lived to its fullest, and a career engaged to the max.
How to Fail Smart
If you’re going to grow professionally, you’re going to have to take risks by moving into unknown territory. Your “scientific experiments” may involve taking on new job responsibilities, trying out a new employer, or stepping up to a new professional challenge, such as giving a major presentation for the first time. Even though you’ve done the appropriate research and preparation, sometimes the outcome is completely, unpredictably awful – a stunning failure.
Your smart move here? Focus on what you can learn.
– What did you learn about yourself?
– What did you learn about the job or activity?
– What did you learn about handling adversity?
– What would you do differently next time?
– What other benefits can you derive from this “failure?”
Then focus on laughing about it and realize you’re going to be able to tell great stories about this for years!
Putting all your energy into avoiding failure means you have no energy left over to make the leaps of growth that let you know you’re still alive – and can still be a valuable and creative contributor to the people, employers, and communities around you. Take it from someone who has failed often (but, one hopes, well): failure is a small price to pay for the opportunities it may open up for you.