Can failure at work help us develop professionally?

career advice

Throughout your professional career, you may encounter forms of disappointment on a daily basis at work. Failure to complete a project on time, an email which has gone out with spelling mistakes, or letting a client or a colleague down in some way. There are lots of examples of how you might feel like a failure at work. And in social care it can feel even more serious when there are vulnerable people involved. Instead of reacting to failure immediately it can help develop skills of mindfulness and positivity so that those individual incidents lose their negative impact, and you can move on with your job and you career.

Stress as we know is often brought on by the fear of failure. Failure, as disappointing as it may seem, is a natural part of life. Even Michael Jordan, regarded as the best basketball player of all time – was trusted to take the match-winning shot 26 times in his career and missed. The more negative pressure we put on ourselves, the bigger the impact of these failures can be. Stress will not only hurt us emotionally, but also affect our ability to do our job by clouding our vision. The two best ways to negate these problems is to see failure as part of your professional development, but also to develop skills of mindfulness so that your sensitivity to failure is reduced.

Failure as part of your professional development

Think about a time you’ve done something wrong at work. It can make you feel inadequate, embarrassed even. Positivity seems far away and unachievable.  But actually failure at work can help you professionally develop. The key things to think about are;

  • Reflection: think about where along the process you went wrong. It’s often not obvious and seems failure comes out of nowhere. Were there other people involved? Pinpointing the part of the situation that took you down the route of failure is important, and you’ll see why in the few step.
  • Action: time to set things right. It can be hard to own up to things that go wrong, but it shows accountability and it shows you’re willing to put things right too. In the words of Richard Branson ““If you don’t succeed at first, there’s no need for the F word (Failure). Pick yourself up and try, try again.” You have a valuable opportunity to learn from your mistakes, turn it into a positive and get it right the next time round.


Of course everybody is different, but giving yourself time to relax, meditate and think can only have a positive effect on your stress levels and to take stock of the mistakes you’ve made.

It’s particularly useful is to focus on breathing and to allow yourself some time to calmly deal with your stress. Try to disconnect your emotions with the actualities of what has actually happened, or what you are scared of happening. This will not only take the pressure off yourself, but also give you an opportunity to find the best ways out of the situation. One of the hardest things in the world is to be self-critical, especially when you feel like you have let your team down. Give yourself a break – when the cloud descends it seems like you aren’t doing anything right – you are. Treat the incident in isolation, and try to assess what you can do in the future to help yourself. Just remember that personal failure is the time to learn, not to panic. This attitude is the key to success.

In an increasingly digital and connected world, switching off after work has become very difficult. Don’t lose sight of why you do your work, give yourself time to really be present with the people you love, doing the things that make you happy. Work-life balance is essential and it actually benefits your productivity.

Another tactic people do use is active meditation. This, to some people, can sound like quite an invested, spiritual activity – but it absolutely doesn’t have to be. Sitting down, turning the phone off, closing your eyes and just sitting and focusing on your breathing will slow quieten that monkey in our brain called anxiety. A great book to read on this is The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. Anxiety and stress are natural parts of our psychology – we cannot kill the monkey, but we can shrink it so that we can turn these thought processes into positivity, energy and enthusiasm.

Failure is a basic human emotion, one which we shouldn’t shy away from but own confidently. It might just help you build your confidence at work and help you make more professional, well thought out choices in the future.

This blog is brought to you by Thomas Walsh at the Newcastle branch