How to Turn Failure into a Learning Opportunity
Entrepreneurs and business people alike often put their hearts and souls into their jobs. Long hours and personal sacrifice are common in the pursuit of success. When that success comes, it feels truly exhilarating: your vision and hard work have paid off, and your success reflects glory upon you. But that same identification with your goals means that when you fail, it can feel crushing.
Failure, though, is an inevitable part of taking risks. How we react to failure can make the difference between whether we reach our goals in the end, or stay stuck in the daily grind.
Everyone has their own coping mechanism when things go wrong, whether that’s doubling down on effort or throwing it all away. But once the initial shock has worn off, there are things you can do that will help turn those failures into learning opportunities, and hopefully, see you emerge stronger and smarter than ever before.
Take a step back to put it into perspective
When you’re too close to your problems, it can be hard to keep them in perspective. Taking a step back and giving yourself some breathing room can be the thing you need to evaluate what just happened. Writers talk about putting their just-finished manuscript in a drawer until they have enough distance to be able to tell if it’s any good. Your ambitions, too, have been a close-held pursuit. Stepping away for a while will mean you can come back and look at them with fresh eyes. From there, you can work out whether you still want to achieve the same goals, whether your strategy needs to change, or whether you need a more radical rethink.
It also gives you a chance to recuperate. Whether you’ve been burning the candle at both ends to get your startup off the ground, or to realise an ambitious project for your company, chances are you’re tired. And while it can be tempting to throw yourself straight back into the grind, you need a rest. Spend some time with your family, take a holiday or just schedule a few days off. Whatever you decide to do next, you’ll be better able to do it after a period of recuperation.
Practice accountability and self-awareness
Whatever the reasons for the failure, it’s important to openly acknowledge the part you played. While it can be tempting to blame any failure on circumstances beyond your control, doing so will stop you from moving forward. Own the choices and decisions that brought you here, and face up to where you went wrong. Doing so is a huge step on the path to your own redemption, and is more likely to win you the respect of others than denial ever could.
Embrace the opportunity for change
Change is scary. If you find yourself back at square one after working hard to reach your goals, you might even be facing a situation in which you have to start over altogether. Maybe the project or the business just wasn’t viable: you wouldn’t be the first person to rip up the blueprint and re-envision the plan from scratch.
Don’t let the fear of change stop you from recognising the need to try something new. Instead, see failure as an opportunity for a new adventure. Remember those first heady days of your current attempt, when the anticipation and excitement were at their height? You can recapture those if you’re willing to embrace the opportunity for change.
Related read: Change: Why You Shouldn’t Fear It
Build resilience through acceptance
The first time a child falls down, they react as if it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to them – because it is! Over time, though, those falls become par for the course and they learn to pick themselves up and keep going until one day, they no longer fall.
If this is your first real setback in business, you may feel like it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, as well. Your ability to keep it in perspective and carry on regardless may be underdeveloped.
See this as practice for the next time you fail. Concentrate on ‘failing well’ and you’ll find that it becomes easier. Knowing that it will be easier next time means you’ll be less afraid of the possibility and more likely to take risks. Building that ‘resilience muscle’ is an essential part of your future, so use the opportunity well.
Read more: How to Build Your Resilience Muscle
Help others to reaffirm your worth
One of the best ways to cheer yourself up if you’ve suffered a blow to your self-esteem is to help someone else. Whether it’s volunteering, a random kind deed or another gesture of kindness, there’s no better way to reaffirm your own worth than to serve others. So, pay it forward in whatever way you can.
This will help you build a more empathetic outlook towards others and yourself. You failed, and it doesn’t make you any less worthy a person. Use that knowledge to feel more compassion towards others who have also failed or made mistakes. We all do, and the spirit of forgiveness that will allow you to keep going is just as important extended to others.
In so many ways, failure is harder than success. But if you approach it as an opportunity, that big failure can be the most valuable experience of your life. Failure forms part of the story of most great leaders, and perhaps it will one day also form part of yours.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Forbes, Inc and Entrepreneur.
Image: Harvard Business Review