A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to host a career-based chat for soon-to-be college graduates. Overall, it was a positive conversation and I was excited to provide suggestions to help these students prepare for their future in the working world. As always, I welcomed fellow chatters to connect with me if they ever need to network, brainstorm or just need general advice. Needless to say, I was happy to see that someone took me up on my offer and the discussion got me thinking.
One student brought up her concerns about her future and asked me how I overcame professional failure. It was an interesting thing to revisit, especially because only a few short years ago, I was struggling with my own disappointments and downfalls. As an introvert, it’s not always easy for me to get out of my own head, particularly with less-than-favorable scenarios. But, as always, I find a way to dig myself out and move forward. In the end, those situations were what helped me provide the advice I was able to for this specific individual and hopefully it will allow her to look beyond her own setbacks and know that things do get better if you let them.
Professional failure can come in a lot of different forms and for a lot of different reasons. It doesn’t simply stop at getting terminated. As I considered my own ups and downs, as well as my peers’, I realized that there are many things that people can deem a failure. Aside from being fired, being laid-off is also one that people consider a downfall. Even if it was for reasons beyond them, it’s a terrible feeling knowing that your livelihood is suddenly stripped from you. Counting pennies is never fun, nor is the constant stress from wondering when you’ll get back on your feet. But, failure still doesn’t just stop there.
You don’t need to be jobless to feel the sting of failure. For example, perhaps you were counting on a promotion or working hard to move laterally or upwards within your current company. When you finally put yourself out there, you are shot down. It’s heartbreaking to know that you’re working so hard only to find out that your peers don’t believe in you. It can feel the same way when it comes to performance review-based or annual raises. As long as you’re meeting expectations, it could be expected to get some kind of bump in pay, even if it’s just to manage any cost-of-living inflations. Maybe you are just doing your job or maybe you’re exceeding expectations, even performing duties outside of your role. If you’re denied that raise, it’s hard to stop wondering why you weren’t deserving of it.
A lot of other things can be considered failures aside from the ones mentioned. It all depends on what a person values, needs and expects from their employer. It’s ok to fail and to experience the emotions that go along with it. It’s ok to ride out the sadness, disappointment and pain. The key is to know when and how to move on from it, which some people find it hard to do.
I’m a big believer in letting yourself feel what your body naturally wants to feel. If you are angry or sad or lost, feel that. Let it all out, even if it’s a few hours, days or even weeks. Repressing it isn’t going to help, but neither is drowning in it. After you succumb to whatever you’re feeling, you eventually have to come to a point where you’re like, “Ok, enough is enough.” And that’s the point where you can put it behind you and move on. If you’re struggling to get to that point or if you’re at the point but have no idea where to go from there, you need to remember that your failures don’t define you. That one little moment or one thing will not negate all the progress and success you’ve had throughout your working life. It’s important to embrace that and go with it.
Am I saying to pretend that the failures didn’t exist? Of course not. Sometimes people truly do fail because of something they did. Learn from it. Sometimes people fail for things that were out of their hands. Also learn from it. The important thing is to take those lessons to help you be better prepared for your future. But even so, this shouldn’t be your sole driving force and this shouldn’t be on the forefront of your mind as you try to propel forward. The good you’ve done in the past matters and those are the things that are going to matter in the future. When you are speaking to your next potential employer or your next potential manager (if you’re going for a promotion), you need to think about that. Let that build your confidence and let that provide you with that steely resolve that, yes, you are the right person for this job. Don’t let that little sense of doubt make your conviction wane.
Failure happens to everyone. You’re not the only one, so don’t think that you’re singled out with a big sign on your back that says, “I messed up,” or “I’m not worthy”. You’re not the odd man out and, chances are, you will continue to face these challenges throughout your career. It’s just the way things are. The important thing is to learn how to move forward without letting any of these roadblocks put a hold on your progress.