Learning from failure

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

-Colin Powell

Not too long ago, I suffered a setback.

There was an open position within my company that I believed fit me perfectly.  I had largely done the job before, and was very successful at it.  It was my first significant success within the company, and one that I am still congratulated for quite often.  The difference, is that the position had increased in scope and responsibility.  This new position would be a slightly different challenge than I had experienced before, but I had all the right knowledge and all the right skills.  I was perfect for the job.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to convince the interview panel that I was the best candidate.  They chose someone else.  I do believe the person they chose will be very good.  However, not being selected for the position stung a little.  Heck, it stung a lot, and it seems I am forever being reminded of it as well-meaning people ask me why I didn’t apply for the position.

However, after reviewing the situation I came to the conclusion there are a few ways I could react.  I could blame the hiring manager and panel for being too blind to choose the correct candidate.  I mean, after all, it should have been obvious that I was perfect for that position.  I could beat myself up for not doing better at the interview.  I do have to admit that it wasn’t my best.   Or, I could review the situation, see if there is anything I can learn from this experience and recommit myself to excelling in my current role.

There are problems with all of these choices.  The first two are easy, but don’t really get me anywhere in the long run.  The third one is the most constructive.  Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult, because it forces me to look very closely at my own motivations, behaviors, and performance.  This is likely to be uncomfortable.

I was able to find a resource that I believe will help.   While at my local library, I found a book entitled Career Mastery: Keys to Taking Charge of Your Career Throughout Your Work Life by Harry Levinson.  Chapter four is entitled “Confronting and Learning From Failure”, and seemed written specifically for my current situation.  In this chapter, Harry provides several thought provoking reasons why one might not receive the promotions they believe they deserve.

The first reason may be that your organization does not value your skills the same way you do.  We tend to value our knowledge and skills very highly.  We lived through the pain and effort it took to make them ours and assume everyone else should value them the same way.  Unfortunately, those skills may not be in high demand in your organization.  Don’t take it personally, but do take it seriously.  Look around.  Research your own company.  What does it need?  What problems is it trying to solve?  How can you either apply your current skills or develop new skills to be part of the solution? And, for heaven’s sake, don’t just look at the skills you are known for at work.  Your career is a full-contact sport.  Draw from your “off-court” experience, too.  Find a cause, join or start a movement, demonstrate your value to your organization.   You might get so busy that you forget about not getting the promotion, and in the process you might end up succeeding in ways you never imagined possible.

The second reason is that you may not be advertising your abilities and skills well enough.  While you are well aware of what you know and can do, your organization may not be.  In the hectic world of day-to-day activities, it is very easy for managers or leaders to categorize individuals based on what they do regularly.  This isn’t necessarily bad.  Categorization helps increase the speed of decisions, and in today’s environment, quick is often the difference between profitable and not.   Don’t get mad.  Rather, help your organization see more of your skills.  Volunteer for different projects.  Offer to lead, or participate in a workgroup that will likely take advantage of those “hidden” skills.  Or, if you get the chance, drop hints about your activities outside of work.  Talk to your supervisor about successes you have had with avocational activities.

Finally, it may be that you do have the necessary skills and knowledge, your organization is aware of those skills, but you exhibit behaviors or baggage the organization feels are unacceptable for the new position.  Examples could include being too aggressive, erratic or discourteous, self-centered, impulsive, inflexible, or any number of other things.  It could also be that your style is just too different from that of the current manager or leader.  In any of these cases, it is critical that you investigate and understand what led to the decision not to promote or hire you.  Then, act on that knowledge.  If there is a behavioral pattern, work with someone you trust to implement a personal corrective action plan.  If there are stylistic differences, see if they are organization-wide, or if it is localized.  If they are organization-wide, determine if you need to adjust your style or change your organization.  This last decision may be very difficult, but if there is a significant style difference between you and your current organization, changing organizations may save you both pain and suffering in the long run.

The bottom line in any of these cases is to find out why you weren’t promoted or hired.  Then create an action plan to fix the issue.  I plan to do so.  After all, this is my career.  I need to take control of it, because nobody else will.

Call to Action:

  1. Grieve and move on.  While failing hurts, dwelling on that hurt is not going to improve your situation.
  2. Talk to your boss, supervisor, or a leader or manager that you trust.  Get their honest opinion regarding why you might not have been successful.  Get several opinions if you can.
  3. Commit to taking responsibility for your own life and career.  It would be great if your supervisor always knew how best to use you within the organization.  However, the truth is supervisors and organizations don’t always know.  If you are feeling overlooked or unhappy, it is up to you to take action.

Read To Lead:

I found a great deal of information for this post in Harry Levinson’s book Career Mastery: Keys to Taking Charge of Your Career Throughout Your Work Life Click on the title to buy your own copy, or visit your library to see if you can borrow one. I would highly recommend it. His approach is very honest, straight forward, and concise. I believe you will find a lot of his information to be very valuable and worth the time to read.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *