Insights
May / June 2019

The “F” Word: How Failure Leads to Success

LeAnna M. Marcum
Article - ISPE Pharmaceutical Engineering

From the time when we were young, we have been taught to avoid failure. You are told to get the best grades in school, which will lead to getting into college. And when you graduate, you’ll get a good job, work hard, and the promotions will come. At no point did anyone ever tell us to fail! But failure is part of life and we all have personal and professional failures despite our best efforts.

So why is failure so bad? What if we flipped the narrative and took the opportunity to look at failure as part of the process, perhaps as the precursor to innovation? As I started to think about this, I looked back at some of the great leaders in history and in our current climate. Many of them had failures along the way. They embraced those failures and have

openly talked about how to fail is to grow. Jeff Bezos, the Chairman, CEO, and President of Amazon said, “Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It is not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.” With this idea that failure is not optional, I looked back at my career and realized that many of my biggest challenges and successes included failure along the way.

Taking failure and using it to learn a lesson and develop the tools to be better is the key to growth.

Easing into a Fearless Mindset

Many of my mentors, coaches, and leaders and those I aspire to be like have said, “Always push yourself outside of your comfort zone.” This is easier said than done because as a society, we have been trained since we were small to be cautious and avoid failing. So how does one ease into this mindset of taking risks? I use a few tricks as I push myself both personally and professionally.

  • Stay positive. It seems so very simple, but we are not all positive by nature. Pushing our boundaries makes us uncomfortable and this can lead us to be sensitive or even a bit negative. I try to focus on the small wins—no matter how slight or unimportant they might seem, they are still wins.
  • Laugh. Sometimes when things go wrong, there is nothing else to do.
  • Turn a failure into a lesson. Nobody is perfect, no matter how hard they try. We all juggle multiple things at any given time, so failure is bound to happen. Taking failure and using it to learn a lesson and develop the tools to be better is the key to growth.
  • Maintain focus on the present. I am the worst at reliving a moment that already happened, but the simple fact is that you cannot change the past, so get over it. I have to remind myself every day to stay in the moment: that is what you can control and change.
  • Surround yourself with positivity. My friends and family are amazing. Surrounding yourself with positive, happy people is empowering and is my secret weapon.

Don’t let the “F” word scare you—take control of it and embrace it. You can only get better!

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