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Learning from failure: 5 inspiring life lessons


You’re not perfect and that’s OK. Once you’ve accepted that, you can begin to reorient your mindset from feeling bad about making mistakes to recognizing your faults and learning from failure.

Sure, you want to succeed. Everyone does. But you must realize that the road to success is often littered with past failures.

The difference between successful people and everyone else is their determination to turn failure into life lessons that strengthen their resolve.

That is easier said than done.

To provide vivid illustrations of what this means in the real world, we asked five Insperity thought leaders to share the most important lesson they’ve learned from failure.

Some of their epiphanies happened early in their careers, others along the way. The common theme is that they found a way to better themselves in the aftermath of personal or professional defeat.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Failing is easy; trying again takes courage

The best lessons I’ve learned in my life were born from failure, and the most impactful one was when I went off to college. I was blessed my parents sent me to school and paid for everything, including a dorm with private bathrooms, a meal plan and some extra spending money.

Unfortunately, I took all that for granted and had a great time meeting new people, instead of focusing on school work. After being put on academic probation, I received a call from my dad telling me it was time to come home.

On my way home, I assumed I would enroll in the community college near my house, turn my grades around and head back to Colorado State University, funded by my parents. To my surprise, they did not have the same view.

I had two weeks to find a job, was required to pay rent and to fund any college courses going forward. I quickly learned how much I took for granted and what it was like to earn. My dad was a smart man. When I look at that degree today, I still think about the gift my father gave to me: taking my failure and teaching me how to achieve a goal on my own merit.

Michelle Mikesell | Managing Director, HR Operations – Traditional Employment Solutions

2. Embrace discomfort

Fear is faith in reverse. It’s effect on us is determined by where we turn our focus. If we focus on the bad that might happen, we give room and power to fear. However, when we turn our focus to the good that can arise from the situation, fear loses its hold on us. 

I once heard an Insperity executive charge our new [employees] with the inspiring statement, “Embrace discomfort. Whatever you are most uncomfortable in doing, do that first.” 

I realized that, like many of us, I had been putting off doing the things I feared might result in some degree of failure or rejection. I spent more time doing things I knew I was good at, and that brought easy success. 

When I took his words to heart, I carved out time at the beginning of the day to work on the projects that were uncomfortable and were of greater risk. I soon realized that the rewards that came from those accomplishments were much greater, both for the company and for me personally.

Many years ago, Insperity CEO Paul Sarvadi said, “Fail fast.” We will all have failures. The key is to learn and recover quickly. Don’t wallow. Pick yourself up, share the lessons learned and move on.”

Corinn Price | Executive Director, Community Involvement
Kingwood, Texas

3. Adapt to change

I had to go back two decades to find a failure that really changed my thought process. The failure surrounded making assumptions that everyone would do what they promised.

I had been recently promoted to a director-level role over peers that would now report to me. I assumed that we would all continue to work well together and did not set up any expectations.

I didn’t realize that the dynamics had changed, and the peer relationship no longer existed.

Needless to say, the first few months were brutal, but I had a great manager. She talked the changes through with me and gave me guidance on how to basically have a fresh start with my team.

Fortunately, because I had worked so well with my team before I was promoted, it was easy to do a reset.

Lesson learned: Always be aware of changing dynamics and respond accordingly.

Frankie Williams | Equal Employment Opportunities Specialist, Service Operations
Florham Park, New Jersey

4. Speak up

One particular time of failure that stands out in my mind is when I was a payroll supervisor. One of my clients insisted on receiving custom reports. I knew these reports would not going give them the information that they truly needed.

I wanted to let them know, but I also did not want to tell them “no.”

So, I worked with the report writer to create the documents. In the end, the client grew frustrated when the reports didn’t contain the information that they needed. This also wasted the report writers time.

The important learning lesson for me: I should trust my gut, have confidence to speak up and do the right thing for the client. That means having difficult conversations and being consultative, instead of simply trying to meet their requests.

Lesa Young | Director of Customer Relationships, Customer Relationship Center of Excellence
Kingwood, Texas

5. Share your wisdom

I learned that the challenges I face will lose their value if I do not share them. Early in my career, I perceived a responsibility to “have it all together” as a leader. I felt that I needed to have an answer for any question that came my way, a solution for every problem and an unshakable composure in all situations.

What I learned from failure is that trying so hard to do everything just right made others feel this is what I expected from them, too; I was creating an unintentional, and unrealistic, expectation of perfection.

It took me making a career move to a different discipline that I knew very little about to realize that it’s okay, and sometimes preferable, to not have an answer for a problem.

Responding to a question with, “I don’t know what we need to do about that, but I’m confident that we can figure it out,” and then getting in the trenches with my team as we created solutions to big challenges made me a more transparent, and thereby more effective, leader.

My vulnerability to say “I don’t know” gives my team members permission to learn, fail, try again and ultimately be more innovative and resourceful because of the process of attempting and failing.

One of my favorite thought leaders, Brene Brown, says “Failure can become our most powerful path to learning if we’re willing to choose courage over comfort.” And that has definitely been my experience.

Kelly Yeates | Vice President, Service Operations
Kingwood, Texas

Failure is a powerful catalyst for personal and professional development. But some people may not have the tools allowing them to quickly overcome losses and begin learning from failure.

That’s why it’s essential to have a strong learning and development plan to coach employees to professional growth. If you’d like to learn more about how to establish such a program, please download and read our free magazine: The Insperity guide to learning and development.