Flop to You Drop

Have you ever felt like a career flop? An also-run? A deadbeat? I have, plenty of times. Any career path can be a bumpy road, and solely a day goes by in which I do not fail at something.

Whether it is a lack of compassion displayed, a point not made, a meeting adjourned or a project that just won’t take off the way you anticipated — the opportunities are surprisingly plentiful. I have, you could say, a faible for failing. A talent to flop, flunk, fold and fizzle — both obscurely, and in the most spectacular way.

I am a loser par excellence. A demi-god of debacle. A constant collapse. I am the grand dame of great ideas gone grandiosely awash.

And yet, I carry on, and I’d like for you to join me. Feeling inconsequential and not up to the task is not exactly comfortable — but it can be rewarding in its own way. The issue here is not the concept failure itself. We all fail at times and will continue to do so unless we stop doing anything. No, the real issue is what we make of failure — how we deal with it, and utilize our mistakes for professional advancement.

So, what to do? For starters, I suggest putting ourselves in a work environment that gives us permission to fail. An environment in which it is acceptable to be vulnerable, to not have all the answers ready and to develop the courage and trust to get out there and aim for the stars instead of simply reaching for long hanging fruits. At times, such an environment will indeed lead to failure, stomach ulcers and worrisome nights. It will have us feel the air gush of colleagues passing us by on the promotion fast track. It will be less than what we wanted it to be, and more of what we needed to avoid.

It will not, however, lead to regrets. Those are reserved for missed opportunities and wasted chances. It will not make us think ‘What if …’, and ‘Should I have …’. Instead, it will provide us with the opportunity to advance in areas such as creativity, invention, and change. It will enable us to try new approaches, test hypothesizes and create innovative product samples whose potential is way higher than the guaranteed rewards offered by easy pickings.

An environment open to failure and fiascos will make us cringe, but not crumble.

I would also suggest to ‘fail fast’, getting it done and over with quickly. Just as in software development, the idea of failing fast career wise is to locate a potential failure and determine existing mistakes early on in the game. Ideally, the early detection of our screw-ups will allow us to minimize the overall damage to our career and advancement in work life. The idea, if you will, is to slip and miss before you’re halfway up the career ladder. To go astray before the finishing line is in sight. Or, even better, to simply move the goal post along with your changing priorities.

My proposal: Let’s not crack down on career failures. Instead, let’s recognize our imperfections, and embrace them without succumbing to them. Failure is simply a temporary detour, not a dead end.

It is a way to stumble forward.