The truth about my failures

The EY Female Future Leaders Series is an 8 week program being run across states in Australia to pair a female working at EY to one that is interested in pursuing a career at EY. I had my first catch up with my mentee today and she asked me, ‘How do you deal with failure?’

I see failure as a single point in a journey. A much longer, larger one than it seems at that single point in time. So what do I do? There are two ways I approach failures in my life.

  1. Recognise (remind yourself) that the work you did to get up to that point was successful. You took steps (and succeeded) to get up, go out of your comfort zone and apply yourself whether for a job interview, a marathon or presentation at work. Recognise the value of the success of the journey up until that point and recognise the failure for what it is – a minor point in a much bigger picture. And then it becomes much (smaller) easier to deal with, reconcile with and move on from.
  2. Dissect the failure. Sometimes the point of failure has magnitude and depth to it that requires introspection. What happened? What went wrong? What went right? Where do I need to improve for next time?

Both of these approaches involve compartmentalising the failure for perspective of the bigger picture. So many times when we fail at one thing, our internal monologue works that single failure into a bigger magnitude. Because this souffle I made didn’t rise – no other souffle I make will ever rise again. And did all the other souffles I make in the past really rise? We belittle our past accomplishments and beat ourselves into a corner where we cower, scared to ever try again.

Failure makes us emotional and it’s important to recognise and respect our emotions without letting them take over our sense of self worth. Failure is not personal. It is universal. Thomas Edison reportedly failed 10,000 times while he was inventing the light bulb. He was quoted as saying, “I have found 10,000 ways something won’t work. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

But the most important thing I try to do when I fail, is to be kind to myself. I remind myself that I need to be my own best friend. I am my longest companion and confidante and if I cannot be kind to myself then why would anyone else? If my best friend rang me tomorrow to tell me about a failure, would I beat her down and tell her she isn’t good enough? No.

So why would I do that to myself? My opinion is the one that matters most and if that is positive then the opinion of others will follow suit.

Recently, I applied for a project within EY. It sounded interesting and engaging. I knew I didn’t have all the skills needed to do the job but I had most of them and I thought I would give it a shot anyway. To my surprise, I found out I had been shortlisted and I let my excitement rise. They wanted my CV for a partner review! A week went by and no news. Another and another. Finally I followed up and was told I was not selected. My first feeling was disappointment, followed by self-doubt. Was I not good enough? Did the partner not like me?

The old me would have left it at that and wallowed in self-pity. The new me hit reply and wrote, ‘No problem – thanks for letting me know. If you have any feedback for me on the selection reasoning– I am happy to receive it and improve myself.’ I had already made the first step of compartmentalising and taking steps to improve.

The reply came soon. It said they were looking for specialists in a skill I had not specialised in yet. And with that the self-doubt went away. I knew where I could improve and what steps I needed to take. I emailed our L&D contact and asked about what opportunities exist to build that skill. And now we have a plan underway for training not only me but our wider team in this skill!

Ultimately I believe dealing with failure is not about avoidance. It’s about introspection and self-guidance. I ask myself questions like: What happened? How did I get to where I am? And where do I go from here? I avoid questions like: Why are you such a failure? Can’t you do anything right? Why bother trying again?

None of what I have written here is ground breaking or new. They are thoughts I have developed through reading about or listening to others speak about failure and success. But I hope collating my thoughts here today helps you deal with your tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: