There’s a Chinese saying that holds, ’failure is the mother of success’; and if you’re in any small way involved with the wonderful world of startups and entrepreneurship, it can even seem as though failure is the new black. So many successful individuals ultimately achieved in life after failing first (multiple times for some), that there is no shortage of inspirational, if unbelievable, success stories to lift you up if you’re having a bad run.
Outside of the startup scene, it can be somewhat more difficult to embrace failure and use it as an opportunity to kickstart your career. But it can be done.
Failure teaches valuable life lessons, with resilience high on the list. If you could choose only one leadership and management skill to develop, take resilience. Not only do you learn to role model and lead from the front during times of change, but you also gain the skills needed to manage your own emotions and well being. Instead of having the rug pulled out from under your feet, with resilience you become adept at dancing on a moving carpet.
Increased resilience isn’t the only way experience of failure can help you kick start your career. You can also get out of a rut, find your real purpose and lay the foundation for future success. Read on to find out how.
1. Bounce Back From Being Fired
Of course the classic career failure scenario is that you’ve been fired. Whether that’s a soft exit - ’let go’ after probation, or made redundant during restructure - or something more dramatic involving tearing up your contract, telling your boss to go to hell (’you can’t fire me because I resign’), and wobbling off into the sunset, losing your job can hurt.
Once you’re through the initial emotional impact, it is time to figure out how this career failure can be turned around. Start with the important stuff. How much does it actually matter? If you’ve been fired from a part time position during school or college, perhaps you can simply omit it from your resume and move on. If you were made redundant then the episode can be woven into your career narrative to show what you learned and how you bounced back. If you got fired because of the boss from hell, at least create a strong list of ’things I won’t do when I’m the boss’ before moving on.
Decide on how you describe your situation, own your story and don’t be paralysed by worries about what recruiters might think. The right hiring manager will want to understand your side. You never know, maybe they have been in your shoes before.
2. Use a Mediocre Job to Find Your Real Purpose
Maybe the problem is not that you have lost your job, but that you still have it. Did you miss out on a promotion, or find yourself in a job that doesn’t use your experience, education or skills? If you feel stuck in a mediocre position, it can feel like a failure in itself. Turn it round by using the time to explore your own interests and passions.
Do what you need to do to keep your job and income intact, but find your satisfaction elsewhere and see if you can build on that. Be prepared to take risks. The advantage of this situation is that you have time to plan so they can be calculated risks made to pay off in the long term. Invest in your own skills, build your internal and external network, figure out if your hobbies and interests might translate into business successes, see where your passions might take you.
3. Use Business Failure to Build Relationships
In a situation of business failure, whether that’s your own personal business falling over, or redundancy during the failure of your employment, you can take the learning from the experience and use it to kickstart your career. Working through challenging experiences like this are character building, and by being forced out of your comfort zone you might actually bounce back higher than ever. Keep an open mind about what comes next if you have been made redundant. Your best laid plans might need a complete rethink - but sometimes this is exactly what you need to get moving again.
If you do nothing else during a business failure, you should build your network. If your business is going under, then you have the unusual situation that your network is being scattered to the four winds. You could look at this as a crisis, but in reality it is an opportunity. Make sure you keep connected with the colleagues you have, not only can you support each other throw this difficult time, but you will also support each other in your future endeavours.
Finally if you are going through a business failure, make the story yours. For the rest of your career in interviews you will need to describe to others what happened in this phase of your employment. You can choose to talk about the despair and the problems, or you can focus on the learnings and positives. By doing this you will kickstart your career even from the depths of disaster.
4. Look After Your Physical and Emotional Health
Whatever your current career failure, use it as a chance to build healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress and boost your resilience. Don’t take too long wallowing in failure, blaming others or finding comfort with food or habits that will ultimately damage your physical health. You need to be in tip top condition for fighting back. Take some time to grieve for whatever you feel you’ve lost, but then come back fighting.
The ranks of failed entrepreneurs have got this right at least. Failure in any endeavour should be seen as redirection - a new beginning rather than an end. No startup founder succeeded without a healthy dose of confidence and optimism, and optimism is, in many ways, a daily choice and a learned skill. Use situations of career failure to develop this skill, and you will find that through failure, your career trajectory can actually improve in the longer term.
Failure at work - whether it’s being fired, getting stuck in a sinking ship, or being trapped in a dead end, mediocre job - can feel like a trauma. Indeed, you’re likely to go through the change curve in these scenarios just as much as you would following a personal loss, or death of a loved one.
While entrepreneurs and startup founders have planned for challenge, if you’re employed and stability is important to you, a knock to that can feel like a big thing.
Don’t ignore or underestimate the emotional impact of change at work, but choose instead to take the experiences - even the negative ones - and learn and grow through them. Even the worst situations feel better in retrospect. When something feels like a failure at work, try asking yourself how you will feel in ten minutes, ten months and ten years, to get back a sense of perspective and get back in control. This way, you will be able to not only recover, but accelerate and kickstart your career, even when it feels like it’s going right off the rails.