Failure is a great teacher so the saying goes, but this is only true if we learn from our mistakes. If you don’t analyze what went wrong and change your strategy accordingly, not only will you fail to learn from your mistakes, you will continue to make them. In the wise words of the renowned UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be”.
While undertaking a blow-by-blow of a failure can be a humiliating exercise, it is the only surefire way to identify where you went wrong and improve your chances of success the next time. It might also help you move on from the event, giving you the tools and confidence to try again.
Here are the three key steps to learning from failure.
- Start with the whole story. In order to analyze where things went wrong, whether they were things you should have seen coming or whether they were within your control, you need to layout the chain of events. Start at the very beginning, outlining as many details as you can about both the planning and execution stages of your project or business to identify the errors or missed opportunities.
- Ask yourself some hard questions. As you review your timeline, be brutally honest with yourself. Did you do enough planning? Did you anticipate potential challenges? Did you have back up plans for these possible setbacks? Were you ready to launch or were there some areas in which you were unprepared? What improvements could have been made in the execution? Were there parts that were not executed correctly? Did you give 100% effort – consistently? Were there specific skills or knowledge that was lacking? What was within your control that you didn’t plan for or react quickly enough to? What was not? This is where you really dig into what went wrong – and why.
- Make a new plan. Whether you’re going to try again and make it right or launch a new venture, you need to get back on the horse so to speak. It might seem daunting at first. You may still be experiencing a lot of negative emotions or you may believe that there’s no way you can succeed and feel like there is no point in trying. This is normal. Maybe you need to take a break before trying again, but make sure that you do. The only way to succeed is to keep trying until it works. Ken Robinson, author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, said it best: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
Developing strategies for success isn’t the only positive outcome from failure. There are a whole host of other good things that can come from the experience of failing.
- It builds resilience. Resilience is the ability to endure or recover from difficulties. Like most things in life, it gets stronger with time and experience. Just like your muscles get stronger the longer you lift weights, the same goes with developing your resiliency. With stronger resilience, you are better equipped to deal with challenges and overcoming any setbacks.
- It strengthens character. This happens in a number of ways. To start with, it takes a lot of determination to keep moving ahead after facing failure. It also teaches you perseverance and patience when things don’t go your way or happen as quickly as you would like. Overcoming obstacles and recovering from failure gives you the courage to step out of your comfort zone and face the fear of failure.
- It can lead to success. Sometimes you have to fail at something in order to succeed. Often there are things we can only learn through trial and error. That failure you’re facing right now may well turn into the key to your future success.
But you might be saying, this is great and all, but what if I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel? It’s important to understand that there’s a huge emotional component to failure, and it can be hard to move from the emotional response to the learning process.
If you’re struggling with the emotional side of failure, this TEDx talk by Dean Shepherd might help. It might also help to talk to a trusted friend or mentor, or maybe you need a short break to give yourself time to regroup. Just remember that you will get past it, and if you put in a little time and effort, you will be better prepared for success in the future.
And in the inspirational words of Gena Showalter, always remember: giving up is the only sure way to fail.