A few days ago I found out that I didn’t get a job I applied for. For a while it seemed very promising and I was already mentally preparing to accept this job and considering the practicalities I needed to figure out in order to do that. But then I came second, so alas, no job.
Writing this I realize what a long way I have come. Not too long ago I wouldn’t have breathed a word to anyone that I was applying for a job much less announced globally that I didn’t get it like I’m doing now. I just wouldn’t have broadcasted my failure. Only it wasn’t a failure. It was actually a very good process for me. First of all it made me really think about what I want to do and what I can imagine myself doing. And I realized that I could actually imagine myself going back and working in an organization again. My own opting out and in experience continues to evolve, it is not static, and like so many people I have interviewed I also realize that the choices I made when I opted out weren’t forever. So that was good to really have a chance to think about my situation, my terms, and what I want to do. Also, although I would have been very happy to have gotten the job, I’m actually also very happy to be able to continue living the life I’m living right now the way I do. So what initially felt like a waste of energy since it didn’t really lead anywhere was actually quite meaningful. And besides, as an academic I deal with a lot of rejection all the time so in a way I’m kind of getting used to it. Scary as that may sound.
But this question of success and failure is interesting. I’ve decided to make a point of sharing my failures and rejections, because it’s important that people know that everyone experiences failures, and actually the people who are very successful usually are because they worked very hard and failed over and over until they succeeded. Their secret is they didn’t give up.
We have a very low tolerance for failure in our society, and organizations especially aren’t very forgiving, which is extremely unfortunate. The thing is, it is from our mistakes and failures that we learn and develop and if we’re terrified of making mistakes, and as a result maybe even getting laid off, we won’t ever dare do anything out of the ordinary or take any risks, which is bad both for personal and organizational development and learning. As inventor Regina Dugan says, “We can’t both fear failure and make amazing new things.”
But overcoming the fear of failure isn’t very easy in this day and age. Zygmunt Bauman talks about something he calls the fear of disposability – a fear of being expendable, of becoming redundant – which is a direct result of the constant flux that is our reality in this fast-changing economy. Organizations and individuals alike need to stay lean and flexible in order to survive the ever more competitive global market. Well, it’s a viscous circle if you ask me.
So what do we do about it? Well like so many other things, this too is organizationally driven. If organizations become more forgiving, they will help create a more forgiving culture, where we can be more accepting of failure. And not only that, I’m convinced that these very organizations will be the big winners in the long run, because people – their employees – will dare and have the space to be more creative, and they will make amazing things, as Dugan says. But in the meantime, I think we should just all become more forgiving as individuals, of ourselves and of each other. And we should be more open about sharing both successes and failures, and not just instagrammable versions of ourselves and our lives.