How to “Fail Forward” and Capitalize on Your Setbacks

How to “Fail Forward” and Capitalize on Your Setbacks

Failure isn’t always the opposite of success – in many cases, it’s a necessary prerequisite. Hear how leaders across industries have reframed their view of failure.

Failure is essential to future success.

Yes, you read that right.

A study by the Psychology of Sport and Exercise journal found that while failure hurts self-esteem and creates negative emotion, future performance was not impaired by failure. In fact, researchers surmised it was a prerequisite to success.

This year may have been more challenging than others for some, as many have struggled to meet their needs, much less their goals, amid the pandemic. But people are taking this time to reevaluate their priorities and what they want their life’s focus to be. An article by Washingtonian magazine sums it up well: “Some people are moving, breaking up, considering a career change or finally starting passion projects.”

Regardless of what obstacles you find yourself wading through, there are lessons to be learned about how to use failures to your advantage. Here are tips for capitalizing on your setbacks.

Embrace it

Failure is part of everyone’s story, so try to embrace your own setbacks as part of your journey. Take it from Michael Jordan (who some call the greatest of all time, let’s remember!). In a decade-old commercial, Jordan recounts the 26 times he was trusted to make a game-winning shot and missed. He goes on to say, “I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” If failure is part of this legend’s story, we’re in good company if it’s part of ours.

Experiencing defeat prepares you for dealing with future obstacles – and opens you up to more opportunities. Because if you’re comfortable with the fact that setbacks are to be expected, you’re more likely to take on a challenge in the first place. Additionally, fear of failing can inhibit decision-making and stifle growth. Knowing it’s part of the process, and you’ve come out on the other side before, will empower you to forge ahead.

Reflect on it

It’s important to realize why you failed in order to move on. Revisit your experience to determine if there was anything you could’ve – or perhaps should’ve – done differently. An honest assessment requires quite a bit of self-awareness because defense mechanisms can hide failure (denial is not uncommon). But, if you do the analysis, you’ll be better set up for future success.

Recognize that recovery isn’t always immediate. Acknowledge your failure, learn to sit with it – and ultimately accept it. The goal? Being able to start fresh (with your newly acquired knowledge, of course). According to Sir James Dyson, inventor and founder of the Dyson company, “Failure is the starting point.” And he certainly knows. It took 15 years and 5,126 prototypes before he successfully created the first dual cyclone vacuum cleaner. Now that’s determination!

Be content

Striving for success can be all-consuming. But when the reality of failure hits, it may inspire you to look to other aspects of your life for happiness. Contentment is a different form of success, and media mogul Oprah Winfrey can vouch for this. Despite a humble beginning and a rocky start to her journalism career, she rose to international prominence through talent and perseverance. Through numerous personal and professional setbacks, she found fulfillment in staying true to herself and serving others. That passion, she says, is the secret of her success. Going through failure, you gain an appreciation for the people around you, who you support and they, in turn, support you. It inspires a deeper connection with them – and with yourself.

Redefine priorities

Failing also can help you clarify the future. It forces you to take a good, hard look at your current situation and journey thus far, then determine which path to continue down. You hold the power to make that decision. This was the case with Sara Blakely, founder and owner of Spanx.

Blakely had every intention to follow her father’s footsteps into law, but the LSAT bested her. Twice. An audition to become Goofy did not land her in the happiest place on earth either. Selling door- to-door fax machines, of all things, proved her perseverance and inherent sales skills. All she needed was a product she cared about. Thus, her shaping undergarment company was born.

If failure gives you the opportunity to realign your priorities, it’s smart to have an emergency fund in place to provide a cushion as you readjust. The idea of an emergency fund, of course, is to offer flexibility when things don’t go as planned. You can rely on your advisor to help you set aside enough funds to give you the room – and security – to fail forward.

Experiencing failure does more than “build character,” it’s a prerequisite for success. Look closely at your own ups and downs for those hard-earned lessons. It’s all about how you use them to motivate yourself to move forward.

Next steps

Learn from the past:

  • Reflect on your past setbacks to ensure you keep learning from your experiences
  • Realize the feeling of failure is temporary and you’re one step closer to success
  • Ask your advisor to help you set up an emergency fund for when things don’t go as planned

Sources: washingtonian.com; inc.com; psychologytoday.com; entrepreneur.com; youtube.com; forbes.com; cnbc.com

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