There are some important career and life lessons we can learn in a classroom, and there are some we can learn by identifying role models and watching them as they work. There are also some critical moves we can learn by listening to lectures and podcasts and reading essays written by others about their own experiences.

But the most valuable lessons come from a source that most of us work hard to avoid: failure. As in, our own personal failure, the kind that comes only after we invest time, energy, work, and sacrifice in a project that falls flat. This kind of lesson is painful, expensive, and sometimes even humiliating. But as it happens, these lessons are often worth more than anything money can buy, and more than any classroom project can provide. Before you allow a “failure” to sideline you or derail your plans and goals, keep these considerations in mind.

Failing should make you change course, NOT stop altogether.

An Olympic gold medal, a business of your own, a national award, a salary goal or a role in a blockbuster movie — whatever you want, you want it for your own reasons, and those reasons are always valid. “Failing” on your way to that goal should leave you rattled, but not deterred. For example, if you want to vault over a high pole, you’ll crash several times on your way to that goal, and with each crash, you’ll learn more about what to do and what not to do in order to make it over. If you decide to change goals or you lose interest, that’s OK, but don’t stop just because you crashed. Learning, and learning to let go are not the same.

Failures make good stories, and good stories are the substance of life.

Which would you rather read: a story about a person who makes one attempt at a goal, gets it, and then gets old without ever doing anything interesting? Or a story about a person who goes after all kinds of goals, has a hundred adventures, gets knocked down in fascinating ways and gets up again to go on to the next inspiring and amazing chapter? Probably the second. It’s a hard truth, but a truth all the same: Failure is really the only way to be an interesting person with an interesting life. And without that, what do you have?

No failure hurts as bad as you think it might.

If you’re afraid to fall and skin your knee, get rejected, or get fired, you’ll live your whole life governed and hemmed in by this fear. The fear will choose your path for you, from the beginning of your story to the end. But if you simply do it—take the fall and get the bruise—you’ll realize your fear is mostly unwarranted. After that, the fear can’t control you anymore. Your world will have fewer limits and more possibilities.

For more on how to use “failure” to advance your career, contact the experts at Extension.


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