Don’t call it a comeback: Why failure is necessary for growth

In our latest event, we tackled the complex notion of failure and reframed unexpected challenges as opportunities for growth. The four panelists – outstanding women in health and science, each at different stages and in different roles – discussed their experiences with failure and how they overcame them. Despite the event being virtual, there was a true sense of community and support both amongst the panelists and many of the over 150 participants in the chat.

Here are the five key things to know from the inspiring lineup of Maame Efua De-Heer, Policy Analyst, Public Health Agency of Canada; Irene Duah-Kessie, Project Manager, Across Boundaries & Founder, Rise in STEM; Dr. Christine Allen, Associate Vice President & Vice Provost Strategic Initiatives, University of Toronto; and Dr. Laura Desveaux, Executive Director, Women Who Lead & Scientist, Women’s College Hospital.

Identify failures

There are a range of failures – little or big, personal or professional, and more. It is also important to know what is not a failure; your good is good enough, don’t be your own worst critic, and try to take life in stride and not dwell on little fails. Conversely, celebrate wins, even small ones.

Know yourself

Try to be more in tune with who you are as a person. Only benchmark success against yourself, not others. Discovering what you don’t want is just as important as finding out what you do. Consider whether to take a step, and then how to take a step. Steer yourself to grow into your strengths. Also know that failure does not define you. 

Find and use your support network

Curate your circle in all directions; laterally with people who are at a similar stage or process as you, with people who are in the direction you want to go, and with people who are junior to you for a fresh perspective. Seek the advice, support and opportunities to discuss fears and failures with these people. They can help check your cognitive biases and tell you, for example, if you’re being too hard on yourself. Even in failure it is important it is important to advocate for yourself and have people who will do the same. The group did acknowledge that sometimes the people who are around you are just not the people who should be around you, that authenticity and vulnerability are a privilege that unfortunately not all people have (especially women of colour), and make sure regardless you find your safe space to be vulnerable.

Equip yourself

Breakdown and understand how best to approach your work. Try to take a closer look before you jump with both feet by starting with a small goal (e.g. virtual coffee to ask someone for advice, volunteer to get involved in that community). Take care of yourself with rest and wellness; this puts you in a better place to succeed – time away from work helps us be better at work. We are more creative, innovative and productive when we’re taking care of ourselves. 

Fail forward

Purposefully and deliberately use failure to find success. See failure as a redirection and part of the process towards success. Take note of it. Try to be less emotionally attached to the situation, to more objectively evaluate and reflect. But don’t let the fear of the past loom large over the present. Know you have the resilience and knowledge to try again. Above all, know that a significant part is not the failure itself but how you react to it; work on how quickly you bounce back from failure versus never making a mistake.

Interested in learning more?

Check out these resources or try this next time you encounter a failure.

Check out the full recording of this event, YouTube.

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