“You won’t be promoted this round,” my manager said. Her words felt like a knife entering my heart. I felt devastated. In the days that followed, I needed to pick myself up.
I turned into the greats for inspiration. How did they deal with failure?
Counterintuitively, successful people fail more, not less. That’s because they go after even bigger goals rather than staying in their comfort zone.
Failure is painful. Learning how to bounce back from it is the key to being successful.
Here are three ways that have worked for the greats and for me.
Do not let rejection get to you
In life, people will always have an opinion about you and your work. Sometimes it will be negative. It is just an opinion; it could be right or wrong. When people with negative views hold positions of power or authority, they can withhold rewards you want, such as jobs, promotions, or awards.
Einstein’s teacher had famously said that that his student “would never amount to much.”
WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton got rejected for a job on Facebook. A few years later, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 Billion!
J. K. Rowling got rejected from 12(!) different publishing houses before she finally found someone to publish Harry Potter. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for ‘lack of imagination and good ideas.’
Sometimes you can get helpful feedback from people who rejected you and shine a light on your blind spots. Other times, their opinion is irrelevant and wrong. Do not let rejection define you. Learn from it when appropriate and move on. Find people with different opinions about your work.
Know when to fold them
There is a lot to be said about resilience and persistence. Thomas Edison famously said: ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’
However, sometimes failure is a signal that we are barking at the wrong tree or trying to climb the wrong ladder. We are pursuing the wrong kind of success.
In these cases, it is essential to cut your losses. Do not keep wasting your time, talent, and sanity at the wrong game. Find another game. One you will enjoy more. One that suits you better. Success will come a lot easier then.
Oprah Winfrey was fired from the evening news because she was getting emotional with her stories. Initially, she considered her job at the daily show a huge demotion. Soon she realized that this was the springboard to unprecedented success.
As Einstein said: ‘Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.’
Embrace failure as necessary for success
Everybody makes mistakes on their way to success; we are only human. It is because of failure, not despite it that we succeed.
The only sure way not to fail is not to try at all, and that’s the biggest failure of all. There is a famous Michael Jordan quote:
‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’
If the greatest basketball player in history attributes his success to his failures who are we to argue? Take risks, fail, learn, try again.
You can disregard failure, change course or embrace it. The important thing is not to lose faith in yourself. You are too unique, and it would be too much of a loss to the world if you did.
After failing to get promoted, I realized that I needed to change careers. I was a born entrepreneur, and I felt stifled in a corporate environment. In hindsight, that failure was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My happiness as an entrepreneur does not compare to that I had as an employee.
Pick yourself up after a failure with compassion. Maybe you need some time to nurture your wounds. When you are ready, get back on your path. Do not settle. Let go of fear. Dream big. Do something extraordinary.
‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly’ – Robert F. Kennedy
You can download the “10 Mindsets To Be a Successful Leader” guide here.