6 Years Of Work Experience Taught Me How to Fail Forward. Here’s 5 Things I’ve Learnt.

 ‘Failing Forward’ is actually a term coined by leadership expert and pastor John C. Maxwell. Basically, it’s about not giving up after failing and using your lessons of failure to improve yourself.

And, after being in the workforce for the last 6 years, I can tell you that I’ve failed a lot.

Formal education did give me the appropriate technical and problem-solving skills for work, but it did not give me the skills for being able to deal with disappointment when work just doesn’t ‘work’ out.

Consequently, in the last 6 years, I’ve been through 4 different jobs. Each job was different from the other but none of them played to my strengths.

However, with the failure* of each job, I did learn a lot and I felt like I’ve been failing forward, rather than falling backward.

*I’ll probably have to clarify ‘failure’ here. I don’t mean being fired rather moving on to a different role because I felt the ‘failed’ role just wasn’t a good fit.

Moving onto different jobs didn’t necessarily lead to bigger paychecks (sometimes they did), but they did help me look at myself and grow into a better person after rectifying my flaws.

Here are some things I’ve learned in my career journey so far in my life and which I can share with you.

1. Playing to my strengths

It took me a while to realize that I’m really only good at two things: analyzing data and listening to people’s concerns. Other than those skills, I’m quite mediocre at most things.

I’m a terrible presenter. I stutter my way through presentations no matter how hard I practice. Or, maybe I don’t practice as hard as I think I do.

I’m also horrendous at data auditing (not data analysis). I simply don’t have the attention to detail when I have to audit data based on someone else’s procedure. When trying to follow someone else’s direction, it’s the burden of steps that leads to so many errors, and maybe I’m not as good of a listener as I think I am.

However, I’ve managed to last so long in my roles and move up the ladder because perhaps most people find it too hard to look at spreadsheets for a long time and I tend not to talk back to my superiors. I think these strengths have helped me at work.

2. Having a sense of introspection

I like to think I’m quite introspective. If something bad happens or I get unsavory feedback my first reaction is not really to point the finger at the other person or even give the bird, but it is to think — “Did my attitude contribute to this?”

This has its drawbacks. I’m like a straw man and once someone gets started they’ll keep hurling “corrective feedback” without myself giving much of a defense, it’s like a never-ending barrage.

Eventually, I can calm the other party down by not throwing “feedback” back at them and acting in a humble way of introspection.

I’d say things such as “I agree with you. I can take the initiative more”.

Honestly, I don’t say this sarcastically but with the truth. I don’t love the work so the motivation isn’t there. It’s really my job to find the work interesting and not simply cherry-pick the ‘fun’ things to do.

3. Not letting rejection get in the way of success

I must’ve applied for over 100 jobs so far in my life, and really have only ever been offered an interview for 25 and a job offer for 10 of them.

Perhaps, the statistics sound good but they’re not really. It’s only recently with a bit more job hunting experience that I get more interviews. Actually, let me humble myself a bit more. It’s more likely the fruitful job environment than my resume that enables me to get interviews.

I like to think I'm human.

I feel a bit depressed after getting rejected for a job I really wanted, or a bit envious if a colleague gets the job I want. Usually, I feel like eating chips and chocolate and focusing on ‘treating myself for a few days after job rejection, but then I get back up and try again.

Upon reflection, maybe I need better coping mechanisms but I definitely do not fall into depression just because of a few or many failures.

4. Keeping Expectations Realistic

I had this goal at work. I'll change jobs every year with each one being better than the one before. I did succeed somewhat — I did find new roles in most years.

However, in terms of pay, it pretty much stayed the same.

I wondered why I didn't move up the pay scale.

Most interviewers told me that I lacked leadership and initiative.

I worked on that, but the advice stayed the same.

Some more reflection leads me to this conclusion: “I'm just not that into what I'm doing and the motivation to put in the hours just isn't there.”

I've found that colleagues who climbed up the ranks quickly not only put in the hours but also put in the dedication.

I might think what they do is superfluous, but if that's what their hiring manager does him/herself, then those who want to climb up the corporate ladder will probably end up doing the same as their managers.

I've kept my expectations realistic now. I'm probably not going to rise up the ranks fast but I am looking for a role where there is a balance between what I enjoy doing and what I don't enjoy doing as much, but I’m willing to improve at it.

Remuneration matters but sanity at work matters more.

5. What is achievement?

The biggest thing I learned at work is that a bigger paycheck is not an achievement. As a matter of fact, it’s going backward.

By this I mean, for a bigger paycheck, you take on more responsibilities but the true question is whether or not you actually want those responsibilities.

I had a ponder over this and ‘No’ there are many things I don’t like doing because they don’t play to my strengths; for example, as mentioned, I’m horrendous at following procedure, so being an administration manager would be a horrible career choice for me.

But, some things I do need to improve on. For example, I’m not a strong public speaker, so it is definitely a skill I need to work on.

For me, achievement at work is a progression towards what you’re actually getting paid to do. For instance, how much more of a policy do I understand now versus a few months ago. For me, the understanding policy actually helps with better data analysis.

Or, how effective have I been at job-hunting and analyzing how well my current role fits with who I am?

I don’t think you’ll ever likely get a perfect fit but I’m sure you’re more than likely to get a bad fit.

Writing this article has made me think that maybe I might sound like a passive person, and sometimes I am. But, John C. Maxwell’s framework of failing forwarding has really helped me in understanding how to improve myself at work, rather than getting angry that nothing in life is working out.

Yes, I still have the aspiration of branching out and making my own income; hence, why I’m writing on Medium.

But, I’m not totally against working continuing work, and finding ways to enjoy it.

Hopefully, you too can find ways to make work enjoyable or at least, prompt you to get out of a job you feel doesn’t fit with who you are.

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