by Helen Tupper

How to win by failing

Recently, I applied for a scholarship to study for an MBA. It was advertised in a national paper and there was a lot of competition for the award. As a result, I didn’t have high expectations of winning and was delighted to hear I made in through to the top 10.

Flash forward a week or so later and I received that communication to say I hadn’t won.

I’d failed.

However, the institution wanted to give me the runner up place for a 50% scholarship. I never knew this was an opportunity and if I hadn’t have applied it never would have been an option for me.

It got me thinking about things I’d applied for in the past; jobs, career opportunities, awards etc…. Several of the things I’ve applied for, I haven’t succeeded in. However, I have always been able to turn around that failure into something that has helped me to have a happy career.

When I haven’t got that job I was going for, I’ve stayed in touch with the manager or the recruiter to build a mentor or advisory relationship.

When I haven’t won the award I was put forward for, I’ve managed to get connected into the award network to get access to learning and development opportunities.

When I’ve failed to achieve what I wanted at work, I’ve reflected long and hard on why and used the learning to help me in my next step and also share that insight with people that work for me to help them.

In each case, each failure has taken me a step forward in my happy career.

Looking back, I think there are 3 practical things you can do to win by failing:

1) Fail more

You have to put yourself up for things even if you’re not confident you’ll get them. Applying, asking, trying for whatever that slightly out of reach thing is, is always an opportunity to bring it closer. Even if it’s failure that helps you to do it.

2) Pivot

When you do fail, you’ll need to stop beating yourself up for not getting the thing you wanted and ask yourself ‘what can I get out of this situation that can help my career’. Respond to the ‘unsuccessful’ letter with a request for a call or coffee, invite that person who said ‘no’ to you to an event you think might interest them. Make the pivot from failure to win.

3) Move on

Forget that you applied for something and didn’t get it. You have managed to turn that situation into a new win that you should be proud of, share and celebrate. I don’t go around saying ‘I applied for a scholarship and didn’t get it, but I did get a runner up one’. Instead I say ‘I was awarded a scholarship for my MBA’. Be proud of the win that you have created for yourself.

I hope this has raised a few thoughts and inspired some failure!


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