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How to Handle Failing

This might just be me, but I do not like messing up. In my mind, messing up means failing, which makes me a failure. This is something that I am working on. Perhaps you have this attitude as well. Speaking from personal experience, this is not a healthy attitude. Today, I am going to share a story of a time I failed and some insights I can offer to handle failure.Concept of social accusation of guilty businesswoman many fingers pointing at isolated on grey office wall background. Portrait scared anxious embarrassed woman biting fingernails

 had not been at my internship long. I was tasked with packing for a presentation. I thought that I knew how to complete this task properly. The reality was, I did not know how to complete this task properly. The result was that my boss went to a presentation without some of the materials she needed. I just happened to be at this presentation.

I was horrified that I had messed up (failed). Like I said, I hadn’t been at this internship long. No one wants to mess up at the beginning of a new job. I felt so bad because I had let my boss and myself down. However, I knew that what I was thinking in that moment  was not
a positive way to handle this situation. Instead, I started to remind myself of some things which I have summarized as four points.


Failure is an event, never a person.

This is one of the most important lessons to learn. Say it again for the people in the back. Failure is an event, never a person. I failed. That did not make me a failure. What is more, this was my first big mess-up since starting at this job. On the whole, I’m still doing pretty well. This was an event. There was a start and an end. This would not and will not define me for the rest of my life, or even the rest of my time at the internship.

Own what you did.

When I fail, I like to come up with a million and one reasons why I did what I did. I was flustered. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a lot of sleep. I can come up with so many excuses, but that doesn’t help. Instead of hiding from my failure, I can face it and move on.  Every time that I do this, I feel so much better. In this instance, I looked at my boss and told her that I was over confident in my ability to complete the task I was given and as a result I did not ask the questions I needed to ask.


Sometimes you Win Sometimes you Learn written on red road sign with a sky backgroundLearn.

This is why facing your failure is so important. If you never take the time to own what you did, you will not be able to learn from that event and be better. In the story above, I learned that I was being overly confident. I should have been honest about the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing. My co-workers thought I was capable, and I didn’t want to show them otherwise. In the end, my not being honest about my skill level had worse consequences than if I had been honest in the first place. I learned that I need to be honest about what I do and do not know when asked to do something. It is okay to not know something and ask about it.


 It’s not the end of the world.

Like the first tip, this is something that you might need to repeat to yourself a few times. The vast majority of the time, our mess-ups or failures do not result in life or death consequences. It is okay. I am fortunate to have a boss who not only understands this, but offers this to her employees. In the situation I am describing, I didn’t have to remind myself it wasn’t the end of the world, because she did. Very rarely is your failure so big that it cannot be fixed or salvaged. Owning the failure and learning from it will help create a perspective that is bigger than the moment. It also means that you are less likely to repeat the same mistake in the future. For me, that means that I ask more questions when I am working in the office. I have also become more comfortable with asking questions. In the end, my whole situation improved.

Image of businessman with suitcase. Promotion concept

Failing is uncomfortable. Letting people down is sad. Failure can be hard to deal with. The good news is, failure does not define you. It’s not the end of the world. You can learn from your failures. Using the tips I mentioned can help you deal with failure more productively the next time it inevitably happens.
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About the Author

Lydia Magalhaes

Lydia Magalhaes is an Administrative and Communications Intern at Your Clear Next Step. She helps with our outreach to young professionals through her writing for our website.

Outside of this, she helps with final proofing and data analysis. Lydia is a Senior at Simpson College, majoring in Secondary Education 
and Mathematics

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