3 Reasons Why Failure is the Best Thing for Your Career

— May 16, 2017

Stepping into the working world for the first time is not easy. I remember during my final year of study, applying for any job listed on the six job listing sites I followed.


By the end of the year, I had an email folder called ‘Rejections’ that had 64 emails in it. Those were just the responses. I did not hear back from the majority of publications.


My final year was spent trying to figure out what was missing off my CV. What experience had I missed? What internship had I not done? What course module should I have instead chosen?


This same feeling was felt by the majority of those in my graduating class. I was one of the fortunate. I stumbled across a role in Marketing for a conference company. I interviewed the week after my graduation ceremony and started the following Monday.


I was doubly lucky that I had also found my passion at the same time, Marketing.


Thinking back now, we were conditioned to think we had to be perfect, and thus put incredible pressure on ourselves to find that graduate position that would ignite our amazing careers.


Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO at Flywheel Sports, named among Forbes “Most Powerful Women in Sports” and recognized as one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business”, has just released her new book “Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat.” In the book, Sarah discusses this very issue – how as a society we are conditioned to think we need to be perfect and failure is unacceptable.


Sarah’s book features interviews with 25 leaders in their fields, from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to tattoo artist Mister Cartoon, where each detail their journeys to success. Each story has one thing in common…failure.


What stood out to me about Sarah’s book was her unwavering honesty. She openly admits that she was fired twice in her twenties, and details the mistakes she made. No blame. Just honest analysis of why she was fired.



“In the COO’s office, I saw my boss. He was sitting with someone from Human Resources. Suddenly my breakfast started rumbling in my tummy.


Most of the next ten minutes is still a blur. I recall being told that my ‘role had been terminated.’” – Quote from Sarah Robb O’Hagan’s new book, Extreme You.


It’s very easy to accept failure and not take something away from it. The best leaders learn from it.


In a recent interview, Sarah was asked how she would now answer the dreaded interview question, “What’s your biggest weakness?”



“When you can say, ‘I had this epic failure and from it, I learned I have this weakness, which means I know how to manage this weakness’…suddenly the interviewer is like, ‘oh, that’s awesome!”


Secondly, you have taken the fear of someone finding out away and you’re owning it.”


So, for all the new graduates, here are 3 reasons why failure is the best thing for your career.


It teaches you humility.


Success is like a drug; one taste and you want more. It emboldens you. It makes you feel invincible. Success gives you the confidence to walk into that meeting room and convince your boss to support your latest idea.


It can also prevent you from taking the advice of those around you.


Change is constant. Innovations evolve. Failure teaches you to have humility. It teaches you how to reach out for help. How to identify those around you who have the skills and experience to drive you or your team’s innovation forward.


It helps you identify your weaknesses.


By facing failure head-on, you can learn from it. Confront and evaluate what you could have done better.


In Extreme You, Sarah talks about the need to “Play Your Specialist Game.” This can only be done with a frank look at yourself or your team and assessing not just your strengths.



“As Extremers, we must get over the expectation that we have been given some magic gift that will solve everything and instead develop our willingness to acknowledge and meet whatever challenges come along, including our own areas of weakness.”


It makes you a leader.


Failure will make you wiser. It ignites your ‘don’t quit’ mentality and opens up the door to the next opportunity. With every failure, you learn.


Learning from failure is more rewarding. It shapes who you are as a leader. You learn more about what your business, peers, and colleagues need from you.


It also gives you the understanding to enable others to fail. As Sarah explains,



“It’s human nature that as leaders, the further we get up, we think ‘Oh My God I’m supposed to have all the answers’. That’s what people are expecting of me. When you tell someone below you how to do their job, you are taking away the need for them to make sure they’re successful because you are bearing all the risk.”


By allowing an individual in your team to work out how to get from point A to B, they will fight harder to ensure their idea succeeds. You are helping them develop into the best versions of themselves, by providing a safe space to try, experiment, and fail.

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Author: Freya Smale


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