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Failure, when applied correctly, makes us better

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November 15, 2010

Failure is something I try to avoid at all costs. Now, I would like to believe I am the perfect human being, but as of late I have been humbly reminded that I am not. I make mistakes, and I even fail sometimes.

I often find that I am not alone. Most of my clients are like me in this respect. They hate to fail. In fact, they aren’t taught to fail. Rather they are taught through school that errors are the enemy. They have checks and balances: people who review their work and people that enforce their work product.
It’s therefore not surprising that most struggle to understand that failure can actually be a good thing, when applied correctly.

Let me explain further….

We often achieve our greatest success through trial and error. Yes, strategy, goals and preparation play an important role in our success and occasionally we get it right the first time. However, for most of us success isn’t always instantaneous. The key difference between those that get it and those that don’t is that the latter turn their failures into opportunity.

How do you turn failure into opportunity? Through recognition, understanding and change.

Before we can begin to change something, we need to recognize that we have failed or made a mistake in some way, regardless of whether it was intended or not. As human beings, this is hard to do. So hard, in fact, that I have seen relationships break apart over a person’s lack of ability to recognize they have made a mistake. In business, this can be hard to do. After all, we are positioned to be the expert at something. Most of us have made it to a specific point in our career for being good at what we do.

Once we recognize there is an issue, we need to understand what went wrong. Oftentimes, we take the easy route and blame it on some element out of our control. A small percentage of time that might be true, but most of the time there is always something we can do to change the experience that occurred. In business, this means asking the tough questions, taking more time to prepare or having more self-awareness regarding how you are perceived.

Finally — and this is the big one — we change with the knowledge we have obtained. Without this last step, it’s next to impossible to turn failure into an opportunity. For most of us, this is our biggest hurdle. After all, we have spent most of our lives doing things a certain way.

Failure is inevitable — after all, we are human. However, as any good coach will tell you, it’s what you do with those failures that count. What opportunities have emerged from your biggest failures?

Sarah Johnson is the Director of Marketing Consulting Services for PDI Global and works exclusively with CPA, law, and financial services firms across the country to help them grow more effectively. When she’s not working, Sarah spends time cooking and completing triathlons. Sarah can be reached at  sjohnson@pdiglobal.com or 312-245-1681.

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