I spent a lot of time during the past few weeks talking with friends, classmates and peers about jobs that are not working out. There are many different reasons why: unexpected clashes with a boss, a lack of meaning in the work, little autonomy, geographical coordination, etc. One common thing that I found myself reminding each of these people is that taking a risk really is risky–and, that’s okay. A successful career may only require one risk to work out.
For example, if you look at almost any successful entrepreneur, the first idea he or she tried likely wasn’t successful. Right now, I am reading Super Pumped (the Uber story) right now; we all think of Uber as being successful, Red Swoosh, Travis Kalanick’s first company was not.
Risks aren’t only for entrepreneurs either. I know plenty of people at Google who rose quickly because they put themselves onto projects that didn’t have much admiration or attention yet, and when those projects succeeded so did their careers.
We all know we should take risks. But, we also seem to think that if we’re smart, we will rarely see failure. In reality, not seeing failure often means we’re not actually taking risk.
Our current education system does a poor job of teaching smart people how to take risk and be resilient when the risks don’t work out. For example, in order to do well in school, you study hard, and often the work you put in usually equals the grade you later receive. So, we’re taught that hard work equates to success.
That’s not at all what jobs are like. You can work really hard and still fail. Based on our experience in early education, though, failure makes us think that we must have just not been diligent enough.
The most important part of failing, though, is reminding ourselves that failing is essential to the risk-taking process over a career. If we can see failing at one risk as our actual preparation for the next, we are actually, according to a 2013 Harvard Study, more likely to think of failure or stress as a way to help us maximize performance, and thus have a much better attitude towards it. And, there be more likely to risk again, and succeed that time!
A few more good reads on failure:
- Talking about Failure is Crucial for Growth. Here’s how to do it Right.
- Carol Dweck on the Growth Mindset
- Fred Wilson on Failure in 2009
- President Obama to kids going back to school (2009)