In an article for Forbes, author Alison Coleman interviewed Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. Branson is known primarily for huge successes, but during his nearly five decades in business, he’s become no stranger to failure. Offering advice for entrepreneurs, Branson said, “Failure is a necessary part of business, so it’s incredibly important for all entrepreneurs and business leaders to know when to call it a day, learn from their mistakes, and move on, fast.” While Branson aimed his advice at entrepreneurs, it applies to all aspects of life. Real success requires taking risks and any risk has the potential to fail. The key, then, is to learn how to flip the script and turn those failures into success.
See it as an opportunity to hit the reset button
Lila took and retook the CPA exam at least a dozen times. Each time, she’d come within a few points of passing, but never get a passing score. Stress from repeated failure led to poor performance at work. Eventually, she was laid off.
Lila felt like a failure and wondered if she’d wasted years of her life pursuing the wrong goals until she started a new job as a Controller for a local nonprofit. The mission of the organization lit her up, and she excelled. As it turns out, striving toward a career as a financial auditor was like trying to force a square peg into a round hole for Lila.
Sometimes, not getting what we want in life is a wonderful stroke of luck. When Lila reset her perspective and quit forcing herself to work toward something she thought she wanted, she was finally able to get on the right track.
Don’t fall into negative self-talk
When things don’t go as planned, it’s easy to fall into negative self-talk. “I can’t believe I messed that up. I never do anything right. I’m just not smart enough.”
It’s human, but it’s not productive. Nor will such negativity help you turn a failure into a success. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Jennice Vilhauer likens listening to your inner critic to choosing punishment over reward. “While punishment can deter certain behaviors in the short-term, rewards are generally better for shaping new and lasting behavior,” Vilhauer says. They key is recognizing when the critic is taking over the conversation and training yourself to turn the conversation in a positive direction. Change won’t happen overnight, but with practice, your inner critic can become your biggest cheerleader.
Learn from your mistakes
A quote often attributed to the Dalai Lama is “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”
Every time you fail, you receive a lesson in what not to do next time. Did you try to cram for an exam rather than putting in the hours of study needed to pass? Did you come unprepared to a job interview or turn in a project riddled with errors because you didn’t take time to check your work? Unless you learn the lesson, you are doomed to continue making the same mistakes. The only way to really fail is to learn nothing from experience.
Take a break
Have you ever grappled with a seemingly insurmountable problem during the day, only to have the answer come to you while sleeping? This happens when we quiet our conscious thought and let our subconscious mind work on the problem. So instead of sitting down and trying to force yourself to figure out how to do better next time, take a break. Go for a walk. Sleep on it. Anything to get your conscious mind off your perceived failures.
Your instinct may be to keep fighting, but sometimes pulling back from the struggle is what’s really needed.
To absorb the lessons that failure brings, you have to own up to it. You alone are responsible for your feelings, actions, and successes. As long as you refuse to take responsibility, the positive aspects of failure won’t sink in.
Don’t blame others for your mistakes or misfortunes. You are in complete control. Only you can take ownership of your fate, rise above failures, and forge a new path to success.