Failure is often seen as something to be avoided. It is something that we don’t enjoy owning up to. But this is not a helpful way of dealing with something that has not been successful. When we are able to consider what happened in a more positive way, we can learn from failure and personally grow as a result.

Society is not comfortable with failure – which means ‘lack of success’. But there can’t be a person on the planet who hasn’t failed at something at some point. It might be an exam we didn’t pass, a job we didn’t get, a relationship that has broken down, a risky project we championed that hasn’t worked out, or an important work target we have missed.

In this post, I explain how failure can lead to important and exciting opportunities.

We have 3 choices in the face of failure:

Blame others

We tend to do this if we feel hurt or angry. It’s a natural response. Maybe it was the fault of others, at least in part. Maybe not.

Its all my fault

Here, we take all the responsibility upon our own shoulders. While what has happened may be our fault entirely, in many situations this won’t be the case.

When we first realise we have failed, we may begin by blaming others and/or ourselves.

Opportunity to learn and grow

Often we have to work our way through blaming others and/or ourselves before we are ready to move on. How resilient we are will determine how long it will take us. But when we do reach this point, the willingness to learn and grow from what has happened can be very rewarding. It can be very hard to reach this point. Sometimes we feel so disappointed or angry that we refuse to face what has happened. But this will not help us in the long run. Not facing up to what has happened is a missed opportunity.

Being ready to learn and grow from an unsuccessful event is what I mean by embracing failure. Failure is an opportunity to learn, and then to grow as a result of our learning.

But how can we learn and grow?

Get feedback

It’s important to try to learn why you failed. If you didn’t get a job, you may be able to get some insight from a panel member. But sometimes the reasons given are only part of the story. For example, you probably won’t be told that you ‘wouldn’t fit’ the culture.

Once you have the feedback, you can consider how you can act on it to do better next time.

Get support from a trusted friend, family member, colleague or mentor

Having someone you trust who you can talk to confidentially about how you feel and who is willing to support you can be a lifeline. When you are feeling down or need some advice, there is nothing so important as having someone who is willing to listen and give you all their attention.

Decide whether or not to try again

Once you have considered the feedback and given yourself plenty of time to think things through, you will need to decide whether or not to try again. If you must pass the exam to get onto a course or enter a profession you have set your heart on, you may well be highly motivated to try again.

But before doing so, you might want to think about being better prepared next time. This might involve taking a short course in presentation skills, or discussing with your manager approaches to take before starting to implement a project, or getting some coaching.

Work out what to do next

Alternatively, you may decide to change direction. This doesn’t mean you have given up on what you wanted to do. It may simply mean that you can see now that you don’t actually need to achieve this particular goal.

One way to help you decide what to do next is to work out (or revisit) your personal purpose or mission. Doing this should help you understand yourself better too. I have previously published a post on this topic, in the context of changing career direction.

It may be that there is an alternative route to help you get to where you are trying to go and this becomes clear once you know your purpose. Alternatively, you may decide to devote your energy to something entirely different.

Whatever you decide to do next, this is your chance to put your learning into practice and enjoy a time of personal growth.

A final word

I wish you strength, courage and good fortune when faced with failure. Strength to look failure in the eye, courage to learn and perhaps find a new path, and good fortune to help your new plans succeed and you to enjoy your growth.


Other relevant posts by Jenny Ames include:

Contract Researchers and Research Students. How will defining your purpose help you decide your next career move?

Are you making the most of your listening skills?

During a 35 year career in higher education, Jenny Ames led a productive research group. Along the way she failed many times but also achieved many successes. She held the title of Professor at 6 universities, graduated ~25 PhD students and mentored ~25 contract researchers. She was also a senior manager for 8 years. 
Since 2017 Jenny has been Director of Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd. Her coaching practice focuses on people in career transition. They may be wondering what to do next or they may have recently moved sector, organisation or job role. Jenny is currently completing the Institute of Leadership and Management accredited Coaching and Mentoring Level 5 Certificate at Oxford Brookes University. She is also a tutor on ‘Entrepreneurial Leaders’, a programme for senior university leaders run by the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE).

Other services provided by Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd include:
* Working with you to develop and implement your organisation’s strategy in research/knowledge generation, knowledge exchange, including REF preparations.
*Identifying potential partners and facilitating collaborations for a specific area of your business (working with any sector including for-profit business).



Author Jenny Ames

Working with Universities, Businesses and their Stakeholders to benefit Society.

More posts by Jenny Ames