Money & Career

Why We All Need To Learn To Fail At Work

Sometimes having the courage to fail is harder than finding the strength to succeed.

Nobody wants to be branded a failure, but now it seems the real talent in life is learning how to fail. 

“Fear underlies most human concerns of distress, whether it is legitimate fear or an imagined one of loss or failure,” explains Dr. Erica Frydenberg, educational and clinical psychologist, University of Melbourne. “It is underscored by a negative mind set, ‘what if… I don’t get the job?’ Like all good coping skills, a capacity to deal with setbacks and failure can be learned,” she explains. 

Believe in yourself

Diane Lang, US psychotherapist and author of “Creating Balance and Finding Happiness”, recommends using your fear as a motivator to reach your full potential. She advises asking questions, like ‘what can I do to change my fear?’ “When you start working though your fears by taking risks, you immediately feel positive reinforcement that motivates you to continue. The end result won’t matter as much as the effort and risk taking,” she says.

“Often our ability to see failure as a positive will help us to gain insight and learnings that make that perceived failure a success,” explains Melissa Scott, Lifecoach at Equinox Life Coaching. If you find it hard to be positive then remove yourself from the equation. For example, what advice would you give a friend? We tend to be kinder to our friends than ourselves – but also more realistic.

Fail harder

At facebook new employees are allegedly told to ‘fail harder’ – the idea that the more we fail the more we are driven to succeed. For Katherine Barbeler, Senior Account Supervisor at Weber Shandwick Australia, a fear-free culture at work led to success: “My team and I often come up with our best ideas when we’re given free reign and have the chance to add flare. Recently one of my ‘out-there’ ideas, which seemed impossible to implement, was built on and developed into a campaign that would generate great results for the product.”

And it’s not just the big things that can send us into a tailspin at the thought of failure. The Tony Ferguson Weightloss Poll 2013* revealed that 54 per cent of Aussies are too embarrassed to admit they’re dieting – with the majority saying they fear failure. Someone who worries about not succeeding tends to aim either too high (‘I must lose 3kg a week’) or too low (‘I’ll only fail so why bother’). A far healthier attitude would be to aim for .5-1kg a week.

Live fearlessly

“Fear to me means False Evidence Appearing Real – it’s just a thought and nothing else,” says Shannah Kennedy, author of Simplify Structure Success ( “Overcome it by acknowledging what the fear is, where it’s from, and if it’s real. Write it down and then cross it out. Take five deep breathes and write down the positives. Think about how it would feel to push through your fear and come out the other side.” Instead of giving into your fears acknowledge your emotions, and ask what’s the worst that could happen?

“Making a mistake means you’re taking a risk,” concludes Lang. “People who take risks are the happiest and most successful – you can’t live your dreams without taking a risk. Sometimes that risk turns into the best decision you ever made and sometimes it turns out to be a… mistake. But whether it’s a success or mistake you feel a sense of accomplishment.” The truth is we really do learn from our mistakes – and a happy, healthy person is always learning.

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