If you’ve been keeping up with the posts, you know I am well acquainted with failure. I would submit that one of the secrets to my overall success is that I know how to fail. I fail frequently at trivial things and seldom at large things. But I don’t give up. I learn. Understanding how to fail is key to maximizing success.

Failing is hard but necessary.

There is no way around it. No one wants to fail. It is embarrassing and uncomfortable. On the other hand, it is necessary because with well-managed failure comes maturity and resilience. These traits allow even greater long-term sustained success.

Let’s go to the gym to learn how to fail.

Like squats at the gym, the more you go down and get back up (reps), the stronger you get. But many times, you see people who put too much weight on the bar and when they go down, they cannot get back up. Alternatively, some of us have decided that rather than risk failing at our squats, we never go to the gym in the first place. Both scenarios are dangerous for our professional health. Let’s talk about it.

Scenario 1: You lift too much weight (before you’re ready).

Adding too much weight when squatting significantly increases the chances of long-term injury. The professional world has the same consequences. Huge failures can be career stifling and require years of recovery.

Scenario 2: You never go to the gym.

If you never go to the gym, sure, you won’t get hurt at the gym, but you also won’t get stronger. Your success will be limited over the long-term because you never tried to push yourself at the risk of failing.

How to fail.

Knowing how to succeed means knowing how to fail.

I have been open with the setbacks I have encountered in my pursuit of long-term goal of earning a PhD. Yet, I have consciously chosen to talk about these events because there are salient lessons I have learned that I want to share with others.

1. Fail Fast.

Failing in the early phases of new challenges is optimal. It provides a greater runway for you to apply the lessons you learned from your setback and regain your footing.

2. Fail Up.

Although failures may present momentary setbacks, the lessons learned should better position you for success overall. There are many lessons in failures. A few months ago, I was working on a Python script to scrape data tables from the internet. For several reasons, the script was not reliable and ultimately was not worth further pursuing at that moment. A few months later, there was a need to extract data tables from internal PDFs at work. AH HA I’ve got a solution for you. Within a few hours I was able to refactor my script for a new purpose. The knowledge I gained from learning why my code failed at the original task allowed me to recognize other suitable opportunities. Success.

3. Fail Small.

Face it, failing is inevitable. Failing small minimizes the downsides of failing. Failing on a low-cost well-designed experiment has almost negligible consequences, especially if you failed quickly and can articulate the key learnings.

4. Learn from other people’s failures.

Good lessons can be learned all around you. I am not one that must experience every mistake for myself to avoid falling in the same trap and neither should you.

5. Anticipate Failure.

The ability to anticipate failure is like a superpower that is amazing to witness. This is done by performing a pre-mortem analysis to understand “what might go wrong” and then taking steps to mitigate those risks.

Career tip: Look for mentors and coaches that can anticipate failures.

The ability to anticipate failure comes from experiences riddled with failures that were studied and understood, then leveraged. A word of caution particularly for early career professionals, it’s not enough to anticipate these failures, steps must be taken to mitigate them.

You shouldn’t avoid failing.

Some lessons can only be taught through failure. But we often are averse to it because in order to access the lesson, we must deal with the discomfort or even embarrassment of failure. Sometimes we do fail larger or slower than anticipated; however, as much as you may want to “forget it ever happened and move on” you are doing yourself an extreme disservice by not reflecting on and, subsequently, learning from your setback. This might mean spending a considerable amount of time examining what went wrong; but leaving this lesson behind results in a greater likelihood of repeating the “same mistake on a different project.” 👈🏽 DON’T DO THAT!

Closing

The world is complex. You are going to fail but how you respond will determine your drive to succeed. Remember,

failure is on the path to success, but you will never get there if you stop.

Try to fail fast, fail up, fail small, learn from others, and anticipate failures. With these tips, you will continue to advance.

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