I think it’s time I let you all in on a little secret: I’m not perfect.
(Insert dramatic pause as you overcome your shock.)
Okay, okay, I’m obviously kidding. Not about being perfect though, I’m still definitely not that. In fact, if you work with me, you’ll know that I’m very up-front about my imperfections. I work hard, I work a lot, and I give my best in everything that I do, but I still come up short some days. And sometimes I even, dare I say it, fail.
The f-word can be scary to a lot of people. A lot of people I know, especially women (and myself included), are perfectionists. We’re type-A planners. We take an idea or a plan and do our best to execute it flawlessly. A lot of times we absolutely feel like we must succeed, whether it be for our own sake or because we put the weight of all female success on our shoulders. Often, because we feel like we represent women as a whole, we feel that if we come up short or do something wrong, our male peers will look down on all women with shame or think we are not worthy. This is likely an absurd way of thinking, but it doesn’t mean that a lot of us don’t feel this way.
So what about when a plan or an idea doesn’t pan out, either for reasons within our control (less likely), or for reasons outside of our control (more likely)? Does the world stop spinning? No. Do we get fired? Probably not. Does every man at your workplace instantly think that women belong in the kitchen and not in your current position? Again, probably not.
People FAIL all the time. Plans fail. Ideas fail. Men and women alike put their hearts and souls and blood, sweat, and tears into projects that fail. And I know it’s sometimes hard to believe, but failure isn’t always bad.
Instead of looking at failure through negative eyes, try to think of things in one of the following ways.
If you tried and failed...
At least you tried something. If you tried something new, this is something to celebrate! I’ve worked at many places where people were content to stick with the status quo and/or afraid to try new things. So if you made an attempt at something new and things fell short, that’s okay. In the grand scheme of things, this “failure” itself probably wasn’t that big, but it has BIG implications because it means that you’re part of a culture that will allow you to try new things and see what sticks. Get excited about that, and keep trying.
You learned something. Whether your idea was a total bust or just needs some tweaking, chances are you came out on the other side with a lesson learned or data that can help shift your thinking moving forward. If we’re not learning from our failures, then we aren’t improving. Use this as an opportunity to see things through a new lens and use what you’ve learned to help shape future projects.
You are still, in fact, human. Imagine if you were a car, or a fish, or a tree, and you didn’t have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Being human is one of the best things that ever happened to you, because NONE of us are perfect. We can’t all be wizards at Photoshop, great leaders, incredible fundraisers, AND Olympic athletes. We’re all just doing what we can and relying on the talents that we do have to make us successful… and we’re all going to make mistakes along the way.
Failing isn’t fun, and I realize that. I also know and acknowledge that it’s unacceptable to be someone that fails all the time and is okay with it — but something tells me that you aren’t one of those people. I’m just saying that failure is a very normal part of work (and life) and it happens to everyone. Instead of beating yourself up over your missteps, own them, embrace them, and move forward. I promise you’ll be better because of them.