March 25th, 2019

Reframing Failure

When failure smacks you in the face, it’s easy to take it hard. Whether it’s a career setback, an investment loss, or a presentation gone poorly — it stings to not to get what you want. But what if failure actually sets you forward, not back? It’s entirely possible. It’s just a matter of perspective. Here’s how to turn a loss into a win, in just three steps.

1) Consider What Went Wrong

In 2007, a Vancouver-based venture capitalist was working for a Dutch investment banking team on some of the largest and most lucrative commercial real estate financing in Europe. After making the move to a sovereign wealth fund, the next ‘logical’ career step, she quickly realized her big paycheck and well-appointed London office couldn’t hide the fact that the firm’s values were steeply at odds with her own. Years of cheap debt and fast deals were about to come to a crashing end for the fund.

Rather than a setback, however, this was the start of something transformative. The reason? She used the opportunity to reassess her life choices.

“It led me to think carefully about why we invest in the first place, and about the role of finance and investment in today’s society,” she says. She now manages an impact venture firm focused on investing in tech for diversity — that she founded.

2)  Reframe Your Thinking

“Every single opportunity in my career has come from a setback,” stated a senior VP from Business Development Bank of Canada, emphatically during a recent panel discussion at a recent tech conference.

It’s this kind of thinking that sets senior leaders on a path that – while it might seem bumpy or circuitous at the time – eventually gets them to their original goals. If you’re getting bogged down in “shoulds” or “what ifs,” try recognizing that life is full of twists and turns, and that change — or a lack of change — doesn’t always have to be considered unequivocally good or unequivocally bad, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

3) Look At It Like Learning

Treating a failure as a learning experience is a way to leverage it for forward movement, rather than letting it push you back. Recently, a platform engineering director at Tile, recalled her early days at a big Silicon Valley tech company as being quite different than what she’d hoped for. Even though working for this company was supposed to be a developer’s dream, she felt marginalized by her colleagues and bogged down by the negativity that surrounded her.

“As women in tech we feel the need to prove ourselves – even when what went wrong wasn’t our fault,” she says. “What if we created situations where women can thrive, instead of making them feel like they need to leave tech?”

This realization led her to seek out personal happiness rather than so-called ‘career wins’ and she’s now dedicated to creating spaces in the tech industry that are inclusive as well as successful.

At the end of the day, it’s about the mindset we carry around ”failure”, and turning it into a win is something that has to be done internally. And by the way, NASA doesn’t have a word for ‘failure’ in their corporate vocabulary. They call it, “early attempts at success.”