3 Concrete Steps to Turn a Professional Failure into a New Project

In professional life, many seemingly bad situations turn out to be opportunities that we learn to appreciate once hindsight is 20:20.
I once failed to close up a consulting job in time with a client. The delay meant I missed out on an exciting gig. Instead, I was assigned a year-long mission that required 4 hours of daily commuting. Needless to say, it felt like a disaster.
It turned out that having a considerably longer route gave me time to explore new things. As I jumped from buses to trains, I started taking notes while listening to audiobooks. Slowly, I developed my notes into structured ideas, then paragraphs. I enjoyed it. At some point, writing became a passion of mine, and, well, here I am.
If I knew that what I pictured as a disaster could somehow be a gift, maybe I wouldn’t have wasted several weeks whining about my luck.
With this in mind, I’ve been trying to find ways to speed up the process. It took me a year and tons of failures to settle on the next three steps.

1: Condition Yourself to Reflect

This first step is about setting yourself up to think beyond what just happened.
Look, I’m not asking you to magically power through your negativity and come up with a perfect plan for the future. I’m asking you to choose how to react.
After a failure, it’s only natural to feel frustrated, disappointed, and even angry. However, succumbing to negative emotions will absolutely not solve the problem.
The idea is to get rational and shape your comeback. You’re not compelled to do it right away. Take your time to unpack your feelings and reach a calm frame of mind.
Whether it’s exercise, a walk, breathwork, or meditation, there must be something that helps you relax. Start there, then set yourself up for a self-brainstorming session.
Shut down the distractions, grab a pen and a piece of paper or your digital device, sit down or stand — whatever makes you comfortable.
From there, explore your mind in search of ideas. If you come up with nothing during the first five minutes, don’t give up. Instead, reach out for someone that you trust or browse the internet for inspiration.
You’ll be surprised how many ideas you can come up with.

2: Write Down Every Possibility

As you feed your imagination, your brain starts exploring possibilities — sometimes, too many of them to be remembered.
The human mind is excellent at generating ideas — not at keeping them. As soon as a new thought shows up, we skip past the previous one.
Thus, if you want to cash in on your self-brainstorming, you’ll need a system: the (digital) notebook you grabbed in step one.
Your personal system will help you turn what was initially a messy cocktail of excitement and far-flung ideas into concrete projects and “next-steps.”
In this regard, David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology comes in handy. It’s a productivity tool that efficiently polishes and structures ideas. We’ll be interested in an adaptation of its three first steps.
  • Capture: Write down or type anything and everything that crosses your mind, you hear from a friend, or you stumble upon while browsing the Internet. Don’t question these thoughts; catch them.
  • Clarify: Sort your thoughts into actions, references that you could study, and trash. Yes, you read that right. Trash. Sadly, not all of the ideas that you’ll come up with will be worth keeping.
  • Organize: Regroup your clarified ideas into projects and perspectives: immediate, short-term, and long-term.
The most important task is to capture ideas as they show up. You can adjust the rest of the steps to suit your preferences.
Personally, I don’t immediately go through clarifying and organizing, nor do I follow a specific order. Here’s an example. Just before Christmas 2019, I experienced a major disappointment. I’d failed to get selected in a public speaking event (again).
When it came to applying the GTD method, I wrote down my thoughts, then went for a walk. The next day, I came back to my notes and used different colors to sort through my ideas.
As for clarification, I did it progressively after asking friends for advice based on their respective areas of expertise.
The thoughts I captured — after the “arrangement” phase.
Upon completion of the GTD steps, you find yourself with a framework that includes multiple projects. Obviously, every project needs resources. The question is, where can you find those?

3: Reallocate Your Resources

In case you’d forgotten, before you failed, you were exerting efforts to achieve the goal that didn’t come through.
The thing is, when a project fails, its previously allocated resources don’t just vanish. French chemist Antoine Lavoisier said it best:
“Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.”
Put differently, not only do you already have the necessary resources to funnel into a new project, but you also have them at your fingertips. All you have to do is to redirect your energy towards your freshly identified aims.
Here’s how to do it efficiently:
  • Set priorities: Not all of your projects need to start immediately. Smattering your focus and resources across a multitude of simultaneous projects is only going to be counterproductive. Instead, zero in on a limited number of projects, if not one.
  • Extract micro-actions: A project could be overwhelming. Don’t think about building the wall; focus on laying one brick at a time. Divide your project into micro-actions. For instance, if you plan to write a book, subsidize it into writing 1000 words every day.
  • Use a calendar: Identify the time slots that belonged to the project that did not succeed. Fill these slots with your new micro-actions. Make sure to design a schedule that you can stick to. We all know that being too optimistic can backfire.
When it came to my pre-Christmas failure, the reallocation process mostly involved time. That’s pretty convenient. A big chunk of my Christmas holiday schedule got cleared out since I had no speech to prepare.
I updated my calendar with predefined micro-actions, such as “draft ideas for articles,” “update social media info,” and “browse for Medium publications.” They turned out to be pretty hectic holidays.
Reallocating your resources fills the void that failure leaves. It also allows you to dispatch your assets instead of spreading them too thin due to confusion and disappointment.

As someone who regularly fails, developing an amortizing technique was somewhat a survival instinct.
Don’t get me wrong, though. When I turn a failure into an opportunity, my frustration doesn’t go away. Instead, I deal with it better while directing my attention toward moving forward.
Failure remains as such only if you quit. If you allow yourself to see the hidden potential that’s waiting to be explored and take action, you’ll never truly fail.

Previous Post Next Post