5 Ways to Turn Any “Failure” Into a Stepping Stone

Image courtesy of David McAughtry via Flickr
We’ve all encountered that dreaded day.

The one where you plod into that meeting with your head hung towards the floor, or you hear those feared seven words: “can you step into my office please?”

Sometimes, this can be bearable. But other times, it’s like being slowly roasted on a spit.

No matter how hard you try, there will be days when your boss (or customer, or potential business partner), lets their full wrath out on you, and all your sweat (and maybe tears) seem all for nothing.

It’s times like these where you can either throw in the towel, or ask yourself “Why do I view this as negative and not positive, as failure and not feedback?”

Here are a few tips I’ve learned.

First of all, nobody is perfect.

A big problem with criticism and “failure” is that we often think the ultra-successful preform some magical dance to dodge them in life. It’s this mindset that makes you believe that any disapproval, or any setback, makes you less of a person.

Lucille Ball, one of my favorite comediennes, didn’t start off with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors. At first, her drama instructors rattled off scathing feedback at a million miles a minute. They even told her to get out of the program and try another profession.

Does that make her less of an icon? Or does it make you less of a potential one?

Hell. No.

Lucille listened, honed her craft, and eventually starred in I Love Lucy. The rest, as they say, is history. With Ball’s mindset, you can write your story, too.

Make lemonade out of really bad lemons.

In one of my first jobs on Wall Street, I had one boss who would swoop in like a Dementor from Harry Potter. For everyone who isn’t familiar with Dementors, my boss basically sucked the soul out of everybody and turned them into ice when he walked in the room.

If he considered you to be sloppy and inconsistent, he would rake you over the coals in front of your peers. If he liked you, it meant you had half a chance to survive the meeting (relatively) unscathed.

Luckily, I was on his “good” side. By good, I mean I left each meeting in a state that was barely a notch above “hot mess”.

Every meeting was like this, filled with dread, anticipation, fear, and a tinge of defeat: until a lightbulb suddenly went off. I realized that despite his really, really, nasty attitude — some of the feedback was actually pretty useful.

I realized that no one wants to hear criticism. It invokes the natural human response of making us feel ostracized and abandoned, but despite all that: it’s essential.

You can train your brain to view feedback as a learning experience. It’s harder than it sounds, but you can recognize, analyze, and fix your mistakes (if there are any), no matter how scathing and awful it might be.

Keep out the bad stuff.

I’m not going to turn this piece into a Hallmark card by saying every failure or “no” can be turned into a life lesson. Sometimes, you just have to ignore it all.

Look no further than Mike Rowe — he wasn’t always a renowned TV star and the host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs.

In a letter to a fan, Rowe addressed how he faced “thousands” of rejections, and was rejected from hosting the Daily Show not once, but twice — despite being a top contender.

He said “Seems to me that rejection is a reality in everyone’s life, but it’s a reality with no inherent power beyond the power we give it.”

Even if you’re not auditioning for TV, his advice is valuable. People say things to us all day -from “that’ll be $1.50” to “you’re never going to make it” — and we forget some while deeply compartmentalizing others.

Remember, you have the choice about which ones you take in and store in your brain. So make the negative talk into one of the many other conversations you forget every day.

Know others.

Stanford psychologist Robert Sutton says “in our society, we’re not trained in either giving or getting criticism.” Realizing that the person giving the feedback is probably just as uncomfortable as you are helps you keep your emotions in check and really listen. Remember, nobody is an expert in feedback, and true professionals usually don’t give feedback just to make you feel bad.

So, in the midst of the scolding or failure, you might just find some encouragement and compliments.

Most of all, know yourself.

Despite all the negativity you encounter, the biggest roadblock will always be yourself.

You need to feel confident that you can do the job. You need to be your own best cheerleader — because no one else will.

You’re not perfect — no one is. But you can choose to believe in yourself no matter what. Despite all the haters, the world will open up if you know you’re still worth it.

If you liked this post, please recommend it! And don’t forget to check out my Inc. column as well as my latest project, Love The Hustle.