Guess what? Everyone you know is, to some extent, a failure. Even people you admire or who have achieved massive success have failed at something. Successful people succeed because they’ve likely failed more than those who admire them. More importantly, though, they’ve learned from their mistakes and tried again.
It’s important to remember that failure is simply inevitable. No matter your skill set, team, or role, no one is immune from choosing the wrong option. Instead of seeing failure as a negative, however, look at each mishap as a stepping stone toward your goals. Simply put, accept that you will fail and press forward, using these opportunities to benefit you. Here are four tips for using failure to your advantage:
Fail. Understand. Repeat.
From burning toast to spending four hours on unsuccessful code, failure can be unsettling and even disappointing. It’s important to remember that being uncomfortable and taking risks is how you grow. While comfort is nice, it’s always temporary and often unhelpful.
Learning occurs by failing on day-to-day tasks. After all, it’s easy to fail fast when you fail small.
Take a quick moment to jot down the problems you encounter throughout the day, no matter how small. Documenting your failures and how you overcame them can become a valuable reference for future challenges and can help you recognize patterns and warning signs. Sindhu Kutty elaborates in Forbes:
“Accepting that failures are part of having a growth mindset is the starting point. Staying nimble when uncertainty abounds (especially during Covid-19 and its aftermath) is a critical capability in developing resiliency in the long run … Failure should act as a pivot point to address priorities, develop new approaches to tackling obstacles and foster continuous learning.”
Sometimes thinking about a problem can consume hours of your time, so putting them on paper can give your mind space to focus on other tasks as you work toward a solution. Take a step back to consider the bigger picture and revisit your failure when you’ve had time to review the data and consider other options.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas Edison
It’s great to reflect, but it’s not helpful to dwell on mistakes. In fact, ruminating on previous failures can make pursuing your next opportunity for success much more difficult. Instead, do your best to absorb all the lessons from your failure. Write down your missteps and what you can do differently in the future, then chalk it up as a lesson learned.
If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a moment to focus on a shorter, unrelated activity. Do something you enjoy, like doodling your favorite animal or reading an entertaining article to give yourself time to reset. A quick walk or chatting with a co-worker over coffee provides a change of scenery and allows you to return to the issue with a fresh perspective. If you’re still struggling, ask a teammate or mentor for their feedback on your process. Being vulnerable can be challenging but can help you grow and improve your team.
Sharing is caring
Often, talking about a problem can uncover strategies to adapt and navigate your best path forward. It’s easy to spend hours scouring the internet for solutions only to discover a nearby team member had a helpful idea or recommendation. Make an effort to collaborate with others before diving into additional research.
Discussing failures with co-workers can be a great lesson for everyone. Studies show teaching can improve one’s ability to recall information, so make time to show your team how you resolved your issue. Your trial and error can do more than increase your own skillset; sharing what you’ve learned can expand your team’s knowledge and contribute to company growth.
Are you working alone? Consider welcoming a cheery, yellow desk mate. Many developers have found rubber duck debugging to be a simple and effective way to verbalize errors and solutions. Give your duck some background on your project. Walk it through your thought process and reasoning on a fundamental level. Describing what your code should accomplish and the errors you’re experiencing to a total novice forces you to get out of your head and may help uncover your problems.
“Learn from other people’s mistakes. You can’t make them all yourself.”
It’s true: Some things you have to experience to understand. However, you can save yourself a lot of time, work, and brainpower by learning from others’ mistakes. This learning can be as simple as noting a team member’s anecdotes during your weekly retro meeting or asking them where they went wrong. There’s always a possibility you’ll encounter the same obstacle as your colleague, so be open to their experiences and advice. Gathering knowledge and using a different approach increases your likelihood of success and allows you to fail forward. After all, you can’t stand on the shoulders of giants when you’re duplicating their mistakes.
Fail fast, fail often
Although an unpleasant experience, failing can be a valuable tool and increases your odds of success. Make sure you’re failing forward, changing your perspective, noting what you’ve learned, and sharing your discoveries with others. All these steps will positively impact your work, career, and state of mind. You’ll also boost your team’s productivity and growth. So, go ahead, push the envelope! You’re likely only a failure away from success.
Amos King is the founder and CEO of Binary Noggin. A leading expert in emerging software languages, Amos is also a frequent speaker at conferences like ElixirConf and Lonestar Elixir and co-host of the popular Elixir Outlaws and This Agile Life podcasts.
Founded in 2007, Binary Noggin is a team of software engineers and architects who serve as a trusted extension of your team, helping your company succeed through collaboration. We forge customizable solutions using Agile methodologies and our mastery of Elixir, Ruby and other open source technologies. Share your ideas with us on Facebook and Twitter.