Why it’s OK to fail

Let’s get this out of the way first – at some point, you’re going to fail. Everybody does.

Sometimes, things happen which make you feel stressed out and knock your confidence, and you’ll probably go away and eat your body weight in Domino’s to try and get over it. Whatever it is – you get rejected for a job, your exam results aren’t as good as you hoped, even something like missing out on festival tickets – failure is something that we all have to deal with from time to time, and yeah, it sucks.

homer simpson cornflakes
From academic work to culinary skills, failure is completely normal

The reality is, failure can be a positive thing, and failure is temporary. Failure teaches you to deal with setbacks, and makes you think about what you can do better next time a similar challenge comes around – you learn infinitely more from failure than you do from success. If you’re driven and ambitious, failure is something that you’ll have to anticipate, deal with in your stride and turn to your advantage.


Saying this doesn’t make failure and rejection any easier, though.

This time last year I was just about to graduate, trying to figure out where life after university would take me, and firing off job applications left, right and centre. Naturally, many of those applications I didn’t hear back from, or – arguably worse – came back as rejections. When you’ve piled yourself into an application, envisaged yourself in that job, and genuinely believed you were the single best candidate for it, it’s hard not to not feel like you’ve been thrown under a bus when your inbox becomes a wall of ‘Unfortunately on this occasion, your application has been unsuccessful’. Instead of scrolling through job ads and thinking to myself, ‘yeah, I could do that’, the fear of rejection took over and stopped those CVs ever being sent off, limiting the damage not just to my Gmail inbox, but also to my self-esteem.

What I should’ve been asking myself at the time was, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ If that fear of rejection was to put me off ever applying for anything or putting myself out there in the first place, then frankly, I’d just never get anything done. The reality is that for all the times you fail, get rejected or get knocked back, what you don’t see is just how close to the mark you were. While to you it may just be one more generic email that’s going straight in the junk, on the other end it may have been an incredibly tough decision to not give you the job.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas A. Edison


Resilience – it’s what you need

Something we can all use a bit of in our job hunt is resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from failure and keep on going. It’s the ability to face up to a problem and to know when to keep your foot on the pedal, or when to slam on the brakes and change course.

Having resilience isn’t quite the same as being able to deal with stress. Of course, stopping your stress levels from bubbling up too much when problems crop up is a really important skill to have, but resilience is more about the ability to keep on going when things don’t go according to plan, taking setbacks as an opportunity to bounce back to try again. It’s a skill you’ll already have, no doubt – if you’ve ever received less-than-stellar exam results, for example, or missed out on a competition prize you put a lot of effort into, the resilience in you will motivate you to turn that result around and work harder for a better outcome the next time round.

The ability to use your resilience to overcome problems is something that’s massively appealing to employers, too. Any new job is going to come with its share of difficulties, whether it’s the unfamiliarity of starting in a new workplace, or those silly little mistakes you’re bound to make while picking things up. Having a strong inner pool of resilience to get over any issues, and being able to show that in your application and interview, is going to put you in great stead for the job. The professional world is littered with stories of people who faced setback after setback before finding success:

  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job for getting “too emotionally invested”
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times
  • James Dyson took 15 years to create his first working prototype

Many people face adversity like this and throw in the towel, but do a bit of digging and you’ll find that resilience is a trait shared by some of the most influential people in the world – think of actors who didn’t get
their big break for years, or politicians who were told they’d never stand a chance of being elected.


What can you do now?

So you’re young, inexperienced, and eager. The reality is that you’re going to face a lot of competition and setbacks in the world of work, and probably make a lot of mistakes along the way. It’s better to be daring and make those mistakes now, while it doesn’t matter too much, than further down the line when there might be significantly more riding on your career. Apply for that great-looking graduate job, or try to get that bit of work experience while you’re still in university – if nothing comes of it, you haven’t lost anything from applying so no sweat, right?

Having a support network is also invaluable for overcoming setbacks. Even if it’s just venting off to your mates in the pub about the godawful job interview you’d just been to, being able to speak openly about your setbacks is a crucial step to realising that rejection is completely normal and builds your resilience. Don’t forget you can get in touch with us at The Careers Service to chat with one of our Careers Consultants, too.

Ultimately, by pushing the boat out and being daring, you’re going to be one step closer to your goals than if you hadn’t tried something in the first place. If you ever feel like you’re getting nowhere with your career aspirations, remember that it’s ok to fail sometimes. Be resilient and know that you’re always developing yourself, and the next big career opportunity may well just be around the corner.

One response to “Why it’s OK to fail”

  1. Great post. Something I’m trying to teach my children at the moment!

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