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How to build success from mistakes.

 How to build success from mistakes.

I doubt anyone reading this blog has lived a life totally free from mistakes, errors of judgement or a sense of failure. But there’s a well-known saying, attributed to Charles R Swindoll: life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it. So even if you do mess up, there are some actions you can take to ensure the experience, whilst not pleasant, is one you learn from.

Here are some useful things to remember that could help you to move forward from a setback…or even use a negative experience to change your life for the better!

People are always your greatest asset.

It’s easy to withdraw when we’ve made a really big mistake. Perhaps we’d rather hide and lick our wounds for a while. Perhaps we want to retreat from the blame we imagine we see in the eyes of others.  

But other people are our greatest asset in times of crisis. Other people can provide objective feedback that we can’t. So ask for help. Ask other people for their take on where you went wrong. If you put your hand up and apologise when you make a mistake, and if you truly want to learn from it, you’re far less likely to be judged.  

Books are brilliant.

If you’re failing in your career or are unfulfilled in your job, you may find great solace and inspiration in reading. We may be in the digital age but there’s a reason why books are still hugely popular. They’re the perfect information retrieval system, they don’t judge you and they create a sense of quiet reflection: reading itself is a kind of meditation. Motivational, business or success-oriented books can be a huge help when it comes to finding the value that you seek in life. (Many hugely successful figures swear by reading as a way of helping to realise potential - Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are two).

One of my favourite books is “Take yourself to the top” by Laura Berman Fortgang, which is a guide to the difference between just getting by and truly making the most of yourself and your life. You can read about more of my favourite personal development books in an earlier blog – you’ll find the link at the bottom of this page.

A plan can change your life.

If you’re struggling in your career (or life) make a plan to change, because a plan can change your life. How can you get anywhere in life if you don’t have a destination in mind and some goals that will help you to get there? So once you’ve thought about where you want to be, make a plan for how to get there. Tick off your goals as you achieve them. Goal-setting gives you clarity, distils vague ambitions into hard, achievable tasks and creates a pathway that you can follow. A bit of visualisation can help here, too. Where will you be living in one, three or five years, and how will your plan help you to achieve this? Do you want a new car, a holiday, a new qualification or more time? How will you get it? Aligning career development to material or qualitative things you want can help as an additional motivation.

Planning is a tool for life and a pretty useful shield against messing up! Before you embark on any future task, be sure to identify what success looks like. This will give you a set of parameters by which to measure your outcomes, and will help you to jettison any unimportant details and focus on what’s really important in each task.

Remember that success is personal.

What success looks like for me is not what success looks like for you. Understanding what your success looks like is really important, because it means you can set useful goals.

A coach can help you stay on plan.

Get a coach or mentor. I love motivational books but it can be difficult to learn from them if you’re not in a receptive frame of mind. A coach can help you get into the right frame of mind, give you that extra bit of motivation and increase your chance of success by holding you to account for your progress.

Coaches are careful to identify the difference between coaching and teaching: a coach will help you to realise things that you already know and to develop qualities that you already possess.

Learn from the best…or your competitor.

Look at your most successful competitors - or the most successful people in your organisation. What are they doing differently that you can learn from?

Next time, don’t try to go it alone.

Two heads are better than one and three heads are better than two. In one of my roles outside of my day job I work with one of the most effective leaders I have ever met. He is a university professor and is often the smartest person in the room. In fact, he’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t know everything.

He has a way of asking for help from everyone that gets real engagement and creates success. Like all good leaders he enlists help, because he knows he can’t be the specialist of everything. Neither can you – so in your next project or next big decision, enlist help, and sanity-check your decision-making with other people. All the smartest leaders do it, so if it’s good enough for them…

Analyse setbacks.

When you mess up, analyse what went wrong and what you would do differently next time. Write it down. Talk about it with a peer or your manager or a partner or friend. I’ve written before about how a growth mind-set is a state of mind where we see all experience – especially mistakes - as a series of opportunities to improve, learn and grow. With the right attitude you’ll never fail, only improve.

What do you think? Have you learned from setbacks, mistakes or “failures” in your life or career? If so, how? Please feel free to share this blog if you like it or leave us a comment on one of our social media channels.

And may your 2019 be free from mistakes but full of learning experiences!



Read more about “Take yourself to the top” and some of my other favourite motivation books here: “Five must-read books for successful people”

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