How to succeed by failing

learning from failure

We’ve all been there. A really crucial event at work has gone wrong – and it’s your fault! It’s over and you’re home now, bracing yourself for all the criticism and fallout from your mistakes. Your stomach’s fluttering, your mind’s buzzing with regret and with those ‘staircase thoughts’ – the sort that only come when it’s too late. You know the ones I mean: “Oh no, if only I’d done that… if only I hadn’t said that… if only I’d prepared more… why am I such an idiot?… I am so useless!” You’re probably wide awake at 3am, when all the noise is doubled in volume, going over and over it all.

Sounds familiar?

I really feel for you. I’ve been there and it’s an absolute killer. A few years ago I ran one of my training courses in a charity I knew well. I was under the weather at the time, decidedly below par – and I knew it. So that didn’t help from the off. And when various curve balls got thrown I didn’t handle it at all well. Somehow I got through, but I was all too aware it was way short of my best. And then came the feedback.

When I read two anonymous but long and deeply critical comments, I went into a spiral of massive self doubt, inadequacy and regret. I just crumpled. I took all those courses off my website and swore I’d never deliver another workshop again.

And… this experience was the very best thing to happen for my business, and for the people I have worked with ever since.

What I learnt from failure

So, how did I turn things around? And what are the lessons I’ve learnt that might help you too?

First, I acknowledged where I had gone wrong

This was hard. It was so much easier just to blame the charity for giving me a muddled brief, for adding extra participants at the last minute. I could even let myself off by blaming poor health. That might all give some comfort, but as a learning process, it would be worse than useless.

Instead, as I came out of the initial despair, I took a different tack. I made myself sit down and list all the ways in which, yes, I had indeed made mistakes. It was tough to do, but as I went through them, I found myself getting a much clearer sense of what had gone on. Yes, I’d screwed up, and I could see that. No, it wasn’t a complete disaster, and nor was I. Instead, seeing my mistakes there in black and white gave me a very helpful sense of perspective – and, above all, clarity as to how I could do better next time. Eventually, I was able to meet up with the CEO and share these with her, too.

Next, I plugged the skills gap

I found some brilliant professional training to top up my skills. (It was great to be in the classroom on the other side of the desk!). I read some really helpful books and I listened to some fabulous talks. It all added up to feeling massively more confident in my skills and my offer to the sector.

Finally, I shifted my mindset

I’ve always thought that failure was a thoroughly bad thing, to be avoided at all costs. This experience taught me that actually it’s the opposite! Failure is a vital part of success. Why? Because it’s an opportunity to take stock – and then move on with greater clarity and understanding. It took me a while, but I got there.

The result has been a complete shake-up of my business. I’ve rebalanced and rebranded. Training is very much back on the menu, and I’m loving working exclusively in the sweet spot where what I do best (warm, lively, practical training and coaching) meets the needs of purpose-led organisations. I know it’s a cliché but it really has turned out to be a win-win for us all.

What next?

If this rings any bells and makes you think you’d like to work with me (someone who gets it!) do be in touch. I’d be delighted to talk.

And if you’re interested in hearing more about the fruits of failure I tell this story in more detail in my podcast interview on the This is Not The Mandy Johnson Show. You can hear it here.



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