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Learning to Fail

Wouldn’t it be great if we failure was woven into how we learn? Failure comes with uncertainty, risk, judgement, shame, and having to be vulnerable. I rarely see failure rewarded in the systems of formal education and it becomes commonplace to not talk about it in our professional careers. A few years back remember seeing a failure CV from a professor that sparked some discussion, but really rejection, failure, or missed opportunities are not common things we brag about or post online. But that was only shared after someone has reached a certain level or stature at work. We often sweep our flaws under the rug in our professional lives, to quickly celebrate the success or wins in our careers.

One space and place I can say is a challenge and filled with failure is the dreaded JOB SEARCH. For anyone seeking employment or looking to make a career change, this a key place where failure shows up. The job search, application, and interview process can be just that — A PROCESS. I can attest to this unrewarding experience during my own job search back in 2019. There were no shortage of applications, rejections, and unacknowledged pieces when I started figuring out what I wanted to do outside of academia. In looking back to 2019 as a year, I spent most of my time figuring it out. In examining my own job search experience (the applying, interviewing, etc.), I am able to actually look at the data I tracked in a spreadsheet of my 5 months job hunting. Here are just a few of the data high and low points for my own career pivot:

  • Jobs applied for (tracked): 163
  • Targeted Industries: 12*
  • Targeted Locations: 6
  • Rejected via online application system: 106
  • Never heard from employer: 35
  • Recruiter/Hiring Manager Phone Conversations: 12
  • Internal employee referrals: 7
  • Offered part-time gig work/contracts: 3
  • Interviewed on-site with employer: 6
  • Offered full-time employment with salary + benefits: 4
  • Declined job offers: 3
  • Accepted job: 1
    • *Note: Most roles I was looking at were in industries were outside of academia/higher ed

Just as a book is not published without edits, rewrites, revisions, and new drafts — our own professional pivots and career moves are not as pretty or clean as they seem. This list does not include other screenings assessments, virtual team interviews, emails for support/inquiry, and even more effort is I made. Some of this took time and practice to hone what I as looking for and in what industry might I best find the “actions/verbs” within the job position.

All this to say is, you are bound to fail in some when when you are trying to figure out what you want to do next. It doesn’t mean you are a failure, but it does mean you are willing to take risks, be nimble, make decisions, and dust yourself off when things don’t go your way. Much of this comes from being open to accepting these failures, and learning how you can grow at your next attempt. This also connects to the idea of how interpret your interpret things in your life. A couple weeks ago, a few coaches and I were talking fixed vs. growth mindset, to see how we to support clients with how they approach their own interests, goals, and abilities. own thinking towards goals, abilities, etc. Rebecca Campbell mentioned Snyder’s Hope Theory, which is connected to pathways and agency thinking, may be a way to look at mindset growth. Rebecca also shared a helpful way to examine mindset (based on Dweck’s work) that might help you shift how we think about failure:

  1. Strategies: the methods, science, art, tools, techniques, etc. to execute
  2. Time: the non-spatial continuum of events, intervals, schedule, etc.
  3. Effort: the physical, mental, or emotional energy to do the thing
  4. Practice: the work, habits, customs, or performance that is repeated

It took me a number of STRATEGIES to tinker, experiment, test, and identify WHAT I was really looking for in my own career change. Editing resumes, applying on LinkedIn/Indeed, and reaching out to professional peers working at the organization I knew or wanted to get to know. It also takes so much TIME to research, review, have conversations, and reflect on what you want to be doing. For me, this discovery and exploration process took me about 4 months before started the actual job hunt. I was conducting informational interviews, by asking questions about pivots and learning more about career changes, to understanding what might be available, what to ask, and to determine what will challenge me in a new role and in a different industry. The time and EFFORT required to identify not only the what but HOW to get connected with a recruiter/hiring manager, and understand enough about the organization, role, and industry you are transitioning into before you even have your first interview screening. In searching the types of roles (e.g. Market Research Analyst, Training Manager, Instructional Designer, Learning Experience Designer, etc.), industries (e.g. healthcare, tourism, legal, technology, retail, etc.), and locations (Denver, Seattle, Dallas, and Remote) the space and time to were needed to figure out how to PRACTICE tailoring job application materials, pitching to managers/recruiters, and developing a digital portfolio to explain how my experiences/talents translate outside of higher ed. Finally, all of these STEPs can be rinsed and repeated as I took a deep look at my own professional identity to identify what I value and where my talents can “go to work.” I don’t think we are just our jobs, and they should not define you — but I do recognize that our work does make up some of our identity. I also learned that stepping outside a formal role (I quit my job) and not being employed full-time required me to define who I was, what I was interested in, and the things I wanted to do in my career.

You’re Not Just Defined by Your Job

I wanted to share my own job search and career pivot not to say “look what I did, and you can too!” but to state — it was not a simple process and it will be seeped in failure. It does take patience and resilience to figure it out — and not everyone is able to make these employment pivots without some reserves (literally, financial savings, time, emotional energy, etc.) and support (from a partner, family, professional network, etc.). It gets even scarier in a pandemic when the world of work is changing and industries are seeing dramatic shifts in how/where/when we work. The risk is worth it if the final outcome is to land a new job. But, let it be known that the energy and effort should not be diminished. Job searching, either for finding employment or to determine a new career path, will require you to fail often, and learn these failures. Everyone’s grit look different, and all experiences are personal when you look at context, experience, and the reality of the current job market.

What have you learned in your most recent job and/or job search? How have you learned from failure lately?

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