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How to leverage failure to claim even more success

When it comes to a business environment, the real F-word is Failure. Like trans fats, Joan Jett or gas-guzzling cars, the term has gained a bad reputation in our society. As a result, the fear of failure causes people to avoid taking risks, curbs innovation and limits creativity when those very ingredients are needed to generate outstanding results. Here are three ways to leverage failure and claim even more success in your career:

1) Reframe how you see failure.

It’s time to change the way our culture perceives failure. For starters, let go of the stigma that surrounds it. Certified Professional Coach and Founder of Small Town Leadership Natalie Siston believes that the cult of perfectionism is to blame.  “Growing up with all of these high expectations placed upon you means that the first minute you even think about failing or disappointing someone, it can become too much to even bear,” she notes. “Perfectionism can prevent people from even trying something new because of the potential to fail.”

We can all benefit from viewing failure as an opportunity to learn, grow and achieve more over time. Albert Einstein certainly did, noting that “success is failure in progress.” He certainly knew a lot about the topic. Einstein didn’t start talking until age four, was expelled from school and refused admittance to Zurich Polytechnic School, his top pick. Yet he still ended up winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 and today serves as the gold standard for brilliance. Each time you take a chance at something and fail, it can bring you one step closer to achieving your goal.

2) Refocus on what’s important.

Chances are good you have a lot of noise encroaching on your time – endless emails, texts and IM’s; projects that feel urgent but aren’t; office politics; self-imposed, unrealistic expectations and more. What if you could cut out the things that don’t matter, and instead have a laser focus on what does? Failure can do that for you. Just ask JK Rowling. A former welfare mom who became the world’s first billionaire writer, the creator of Harry Potter has inspired a love for reading in hundreds of millions of kids worldwide. Back in 2006, she delivered a compelling speech at Harvard University called “The Benefits of Failure.”

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential,” said Rowling in that commencement address. “I stopped pretending that I was anything except what I was and began directing all of my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized and I was still alive, still had a daughter I adored, an old typewriter and a big idea. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you’ve lived so cautiously that you might have well not lived at all. The ability to use failure often leads to the greatest success.”

I couldn’t agree more. If the recession hadn’t killed my PR agency, I never would have become a certified executive coach, gotten a corporate job I really enjoy or started writing about my passion for well-being at work. Failure got me to refocus on what mattered most, ultimately leading to more happiness and success.

3) Find the opportunity.

Failure is a rite of passage for many successful people. Oprah, Steve Jobs and Walt Disney were all fired from jobs along the way before creating their biggest wins. Thomas Edison had 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at creating the light bulb before getting it right. Iconic director Steven Spielberg was rejected both times he applied to attend film school at University of Southern California. Instead of letting failure paralyze you, it is important to identify the lesson at hand and move forward. Like basketball legend Michael Jordan, who was cut from his high school varsity basketball team during sophomore year. Instead of quitting, it inspired him to try harder. Jordan famously said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

That perspective certainly helped Siston. She planned to partner on a live coaching event in Dallas, Texas with two colleagues but despite booking a date, meeting location, air travel and lots of social media promotion, only one ticket was sold. Rather than dismiss this as a loss, the trio kept their travel plans and used the weekend as a mastermind experience for themselves. “That was one of the best weekends of my life,” she said. “We coached each other deeply and a year later, our lives are completely different. It is what ultimately needed to happen.”

When have you dealt with a failure in your career? What lessons or opportunities did you gain from it?

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