None of us is perfect - this is not news…in my corporate HR career my favourite line of inquiry in interviews was to ask a candidate to describe a failing. Those that could not answer the question would stammer through something like…”I am not sure, I don’t think I’ve ever missed an important deadline…” and their lack of a real answer spoke volumes. Failure is inevitable. Employers ask these questions not to catch you out, but to see if you know how to fail. Knowing how to fail is very important, because no employer can promise you a working environment that won’t call on you to fail every now and again. Not intentionally of course, but mitigating circumstance prevail (as does Murphy’s Law), so when an employer wants to better understand how you handle failure (from a missed deadline to the collapse of a project), what they are really looking for is if you know how to fail. It’s a skill.
Knowing how to fail is key because we are all going to fail, not necessarily catastrophically or perpetually, but we all have a long line of mistakes behind us (and ahead of us). No one is immune. Everyone forgets things, lacks perspective, or makes poor choices from time to time. Those that put enormous energy into perfectionism, controlling variables so they don’t trigger failure, may take comfort in their efforts but that is only half the equation; failure also comes to visit us and it doesn’t knock politely at the door, it just barges right in (always at the worst possible moment). Fear is what drives us to sidestep our mistakes - directly by controlling them or covering them up, or indirectly through our “blind spots”. Fear of consequences. Fear of how we will feel about ourselves. Fear of how we may look to others. No one likes to be thought of as deficient in some way. Fear creates panic and suffering within us that blocks access to our gifts and better selves. However, when we turn into this fear, facing it, it drives us to better outcomes.
It has been said if you are not failing then you are not living. How willing we are to see our failings is key – it is this process of self-awareness that takes our very human failings and turns them into life-lessons. When you don’t know how to fail, you have little access to experiential learning. People who are willing to truly see themselves, including their flaws, are often curious, compassionate and courageous – all attributes that help them to rise above a failing and turn it into something positive. Mistakes and missteps (large and small) offer us insight into ourselves, and have something to teach us when we chose to look directly into the “eye” of our own deficiencies, but only when we do so with great self-compassion and interest about what they have to teach us. There is no wisdom without failure. Knowledge without experience does not offer us learning. Learn how to fail so you may become your best self. We will all continue to make mistakes; failure is (and always has been) a part of the plan. The objective then is to master the skill of making incrementally better mistakes; we do this by remaining open to learning from each of them.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.