To help us grow, sometimes we have to overcome our fear of failing – with this mind, here’s some ways you can use past failures to fuel your future success.
Almost everyone is afraid of failure, even if many of us know it’s an unavoidable feature of eventual success. The list of people who have achieved incredible things despite experiencing disasters is long.
The more famous examples include Steve Jobs (the Apple board once ousted him from his own company), J.K Rowling (multiple publishers rejected her Harry Potter pitch), and Jeff Bezos (he ran a dud online auction site before starting Amazon).
But those are big names – how does failure fit into a less high profile career?
Don’t be afraid of failure
Bri Hayllar, a psychologist and business coach at the Centre for Corporate Health in Sydney, says it’s worthwhile understanding that failure is possible and acceptable “because often the alternative is doing nothing”.
That being said, not every culture treats failure the same way. The United States has a deserved reputation for entrepreneurial success – and for tolerating failure. The theory goes that unless you have failed at least once, you probably have not tried hard enough.
In Australia, by contrast, failure is sometimes seen as a career killer – and this fear of crashing and burning can stifle innovation. So here are some tips to help overcome that fear.
Get in the right frame of mind
Hayllar says when people are in a very negative emotional state, it alters their cognitive processes – in a bad way. They shut down. On the other hand, those with a positive emotional state are more aware and more open to information, which in turn increases their creativity, problem-solving and decision-making skills.
“If we go into a job or a role thinking ‘I must protect myself, I must avoid risk, I mustn’t fail’ then we’re in that threat-negative space which is counterproductive to success.”
In Australia, failure is sometimes seen as a career killer – and this fear of crashing and burning can stifle innovation.
Learn from your setbacks
Of course, continual failure is not desirable. The key is to process errors and improve. Bill Gates and Paul Allen will forever be known as the creators of Microsoft.
They are less well known for Traf-O-Data, a failed attempt at using computerised data to improve traffic surveys for municipal governments. Their time on the project was not wasted, though; it taught them the skills to simulate how microprocessors work, a key element of Microsoft’s success.
As part of their learning process, Hayllar says people should be conscious of their statements. Avoid the temptation to say “I’m hopeless and I’ve failed”, and instead say “This project didn’t work, but what can I learn from it?”
Try and try again
Legend has it that Thomas Edison discarded thousands of prototypes before perfecting his light bulb.
Such resilience is a common story with successful people. Hayllar is a firm believer that effort, grit and determination trump intelligence. “For instance, we often see that really determined students will achieve more than the intelligent kids who don’t put in the effort.”
Just as artists don’t expect their first painting to be a masterpiece, we all need to appreciate that perseverance is required to achieve true success.
“You’ve got to have that grit to try again and keep doing things,” Hayllar says.