No great success was ever achieved without at least a bit of failure along the way. It is something everyone experiences throughout their career, but only recently have we begun to start talking about the positives associated with career shortcomings. Unafraid to lay their failures out in the open, a new generation is embracing the idea of “failing upward.” To put it simply, failing upward is when a series of missteps results in some career upside.
Oftentimes, when we see someone land on their feet, we tend to attribute it to blind luck. In order to continue moving forward through hardship and fail upward though, it takes initiative and intentionality to turn mistakes into new growth opportunities. Here are some “professional shortcomings” that transform into tangible career boosters.
Your boss passes you over for a big project in favor of someone with less experience.
There is no way around it – when you’re overlooked for a work opportunity, it feels awful. It’s twice the sting when the person you were passed up for has less experience or years at the company. Even though it probably wasn’t personal, it always feels like it is and your natural reaction is likely emotional – that’s completely natural and OK. But you shouldn’t continue to sit there feeling sorry for yourself.
No, the key to failing upward here is to come up with a new strategy to help you land that next big opportunity. Once the dust has settled, the first thing you should do is seek candid feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor for the reason why the other person was chosen. Get the specifics, as they might shine some light on what you need to do to be in the conversation next time.
If you’re able to swallow your pride, it can also be helpful to talk to the person who beat you out about the way they’re approaching work differently and how it got them noticed. Maybe you’ve been playing it too safe at work, afraid to speak up at client meetings or take a business risk. You always hear that employers want workers who are results-driven. While that’s certainly true, even stand-out employees sometimes fall into the habit of just focusing on the day-to-day activities without looking at the big picture.
You pivoted careers – and now you hate it.
People are changing jobs more than ever before, and so career pivots are a common and predictable part of life. One day you’re working as a financial consultant and the next you’re a food blogger. Maybe you’ve been doing the exact same thing for years and have grown bored with it, or you’re ready to work again after taking some time away for parenting.
But not all career pivots end with a happily ever after. Sometimes you’ll hate your new career more (scary, right?) or you’re ill-equipped to handle your new job and struggle to make it work. After taking a big risk and it not working out quite the way you planned, it can be easy to feel discouraged and want to give up – but you shouldn’t! Even when things look bleak, don’t forget to look at the positives that might have come from it, such as:
- Universal or niche skills you developed to take with you to your next role
- Project successes (or failures) and the invaluable knowledge you gained from those experiences
- Personal connections you’ve made, both professional and personal, that could open new doors for you down the road
The professionals who are most successful are the ones who figure out how to leverage their past experiences in a way that makes them look attractive to new employers (failures included). Don’t fret over archaic rules claiming you need this many years of experience or that you should only hold that many jobs over your lifetime – those have all gone out the window. Employers are looking for people who are unafraid to take risks to get where they want. They’re looking for people who are actually passionate about their profession, because they turn out to be the best workers.
You took the lead on a new business pitch and you lost.
You got the big moment you were looking for, the chance to land that huge new business client that might make your career. You dressed the part, nailed the intros and blew them away with your presentation – or so you thought – until the client decided to go with your biggest competitor.
When negative things like this happen, it’s easy to lose your self-esteem. But you shouldn’t let a moment like this derail your momentum. Think positively! Someone trusts in your ability and put you in the position for a reason, because they believe you’re the best person to get the job done. Now you just need to trust in yourself and what you know.
Remember that even the most successful people have experienced tough failures, and you shouldn’t let it shake your confidence. After you fall short of your goal, it’s important to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t so you can come back with a stronger strategy the next time (and there will be a next time).
The most important thing about failure is the often tough lesson it teaches in humility. Everyone has some missteps and shortcomings when it comes to their career, but with a dose of humility and the right perspective, you can turn those perceived negatives into career positives.