In the tech industry, we’re always told to embrace failure and fail fast (or fail early, fail often). I’m a big proponent of this myself (see 13 Things I believe).
However, this doesn’t mean that failing is easy. In fact, coping with failure and personal failure in particular is incredibly hard for most people. The ability to quickly rebound from (perceived) failure is probably one of the most important soft skills you can acquire.
This is especially true for perfectionists, who are often hyper-critical of their own work. The fact that working meticulously is a key skill for (software) engineers probably means that we have a disproportional high number of those perfectionists in the tech industry. The more reason that “embracing failure” is easier said than done.
So what can we do to better deal with the negative emotions associated with failure?
I’ve learned that age and experience helps - as you get older, you learn to put things in perspective. You ask yourself more: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” And you learn that the answer increasingly becomes “Well, nothing really bad…”.
A single bad professional outcome seldomly means losing your job. And even then, losing your job doesn’t mean losing your house, family, friends or hobbies.
Two tricks I learned from the book S.U.M.O (Shut Up, Move On):
These tricks often help me rationalize my failures, which is a good first step.
However, it typically doesn’t do away with how you feel about the situation. This is especially true with Micro Failures.
Micro failures: small things that happen during the day that get you down.
Here’s a few things I’d put in this category:
In my experience, the negative emotion associated with these situations often comes out of disappointment with yourself. Time constraints or being caught in the moment are typically important factors: you could’ve done better if only given more time to think things through or prepare.
This in part defines emotional and intellectual maturity: how well you perform in these situations, even when under pressure.
Here’s a few tricks I’ve learned that can help me overcome the initial emotional response:
For most of us, coping and emotional resiliency against (micro) failures is a forever work-in-progress. The good news is that with experience and perspective, I’ve personally noticed definite improvements.