Own your failures

Lucky clover

We all fail from time to time. Projects don’t turn out as planned; we make mistakes; circumstances conspire against us; and sometimes we’re just plain unlucky. It happens. We’ve all heard that it’s how we react to failure which defines our success. But it’s one thing to cope with failure, and another to learn from it.

The easiest path is to deny any involvement in the failure or to explain it away. The fact that the project bombed is hard to refute. Our role in causing that to happen is a much easier target. It usually involves the words ‘If only’ and denial that the project was worthwhile in the first place. That’s because we don’t like the dissonance between our own self-image and the hard facts presented before us.

The paradox here is that denial is more likely to lead to more failures in future. No lessons are learned since we don’t adjust our view of our abilities or take steps to address weaknesses. It takes courage to admit to ourselves that we’re not so great at a particular task. Oddly enough, discussing failures can help. Simply hearing ourselves say to another person that we’re not good at [public speaking, project management etc] makes it real. Then we’re more likely to take action to compensate.

If you speak to successful entrepreneurs, they’ll have a long list of failures they can talk through. In fact, they’ll be acutely aware of all the things they do badly, and be willing to admit them. Once weaknesses are in the open, they can be addressed or avoided. Conversely, those who reach a top speed and can go no further are often bemused by their lack of progression. They feel they are so great at all these tasks, they can’t understand why they aren’t promoted or why their project failed. The simple reason is they didn’t own their failures, and so don’t get the rewards.