How to Recover After Failure

It’s okay, Seattle. It happens to the best of us.

When I was in the 7th grade, my mom asked me to make a banana cream pie. No big deal. A store-bought crust, some pudding and Cool Whip.  The pie was nearly finished when I decided to add about 10 packs of Smarties to the pudding. Yep, the little tart candies.  I thought the pie would be colorful and it might have an extra tang of deliciousness. I hoped my mom would admire me for my culinary creativity.  There was a brief a pause of doubt before dumping the Smarties into the mix, but I brushed it aside and envisioned future glory on Top Chef.

The pie tasted gross.  “How could you think this was a good thing to do?” my mom asked. I was embarrassed. A simple task, and I’d failed.

The pie comes back in visions from time to time. But without it, who knows what I else may have done along the way. 

We asked team members to offer a story, a tip, or both on how to recover after failure.

Michelle:

When I was in Home Ec in high school, our team had to make a baked ziti. We did great! After taking it out, we realized we’d left the saran wrap (not foil) on the top.

Here’s how I try to deal with stuff like this. I don’t always follow it because it’s hard.

Don’t play the blame game, take responsibility but also learn how to quickly forgive yourself and even poke fun at the failure. I find if you can’t forgive yourself and laugh at yourself there’s no way you can truly re-focus. 

Then I look at a bunch of cat memes.

Matt:

Patience.

It’s important to take responsibility for your actions. If you fail, own up to it and have the patience to take action by reviewing the things that went right and the things that went wrong; and then working to connect the dots. It’s hard work to focus on failure, but it’s much more rewarding to overcome and make true progress.

Julie:

Failure means I’m in the game. To heck with MMQB’s. I did my best – even if humanity interrupted and mistakes were made. I can’t worry about it.

Renee:

Pick yourself up, brush off the failure, learn from it but move forward and don’t look back.

Lauren:

Lauren’s Promantip: Reset yourself, take a walk, talk it out with a friend or coworker or grab a coffee. Get yourself in a new mindset before you go back to it after a failure and make sure to laugh a little along the way. I think it clears the air.

Andrew:

I was making pizza from scratch for relatives on a family trip when I was in high school so I had a fun project. I used wax paper instead of parchment paper. FAILURE.

In my experience, the best ways to handle failure are:

1. Forgiving ourselves so we can better…

2. … learn from the failure so we don’t repeat it. 

The second is more difficult without the first, and it’s important to not mistake failure for a lack of ability or ineptness. Failure is bound to happen.

Moreover, we also need to take the opportunity to learn from failure, which will generally involve putting more work into the problem than we may have beforehand. Otherwise, we risk missing the opportunity the failure presents us.

Kalley:

After a failure, there can be a period of self-doubt and the longer you dwell there the longer it will take to get back on your feet. To get back on the right track I like to set small, achievable goals and start crossing them off my to-do list. Whether big or small, making accomplishments again boosts my confidence and gets me ready for the next challenge. 

Mack:

Try as you might, there is no way to change the past. Your largest improvements will come from accepting what happened, and applying what you learned from it to the present and future. That, and cat videos.

Nikki:

I learned about failure from rock climbing.

When I was learning how to lead (climbing without a rope already hung from the top) an integral part of the class was learning how to take a fall. It’s the most terrifying thing to be up high, held by a rope at my waist, heart pounding, hands sweating, legs shaking, and being asked to willingly fling myself backward through the air and trust that I will still be alive in one piece after taking the leap.

“If you don’t learn to fall, you’re better off not climbing. If you climb, you will fall. If you don’t know how to fall, you’ll get hurt, and your partner can also get hurt,” the instructor said. I learned that falling is part of climbing. It’s part of the game.

Watching videos of world class climbers work on a route also helps. They fall and fall and fall repeatedly. Usually, most of the video is about how challenging the route is, and what the climbers have tried and where they failed. Only a small portion of the film shows them succeeding. Sometimes they don’t succeed at all. The rainy season would come, and they’d have to come back to that specific spot to try again next year. 

Seeing other people taking their failures in strides, turning mistakes into lessons, and transmuting disappointment into determination is enormously helpful and inspiring.

Glenn:

From Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was a German novelist, dramatist, poet, humanist, scientist, philosopher, and for ten years chief minister of state at Weimar.

 

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Image courtesy of Thomasz Stasluk, Flickr Creative Commons.