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Failing at Failure


If you’re feeling bad for being such a failure, I have some worse news for you.

Not only are you a failure, you’re also failing at how you fail.

It’s true! According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, writing for Linkedin Pulse, you can use a failure to your advantage, but only if you respond correctly to the failure, and you definitely don’t. Frankly, it’s pretty surprising that you fail at failing, since failing is an activity in which you have lots of experience.


To develop a successful response to failure you must have the right attitude. “One of the biggest roadblocks to success is the fear of failure,” Bradberry writes. “Fear of failure is worse than failure itself because it condemns you to a life of unrealized potential.”

In your case, this is a little difficult to swallow. Whatever scant potential you had, it’s now been excavating from the wreckage of what we laughingly call your career and put on display for all the working world to see. As your kindergarten teacher concluded after accessing your finger painting chops, “we’re not seeing a lot of potential here.”

And it’s been downhill ever since.

But let’s look on the bright side. Since you fail so frequently, you should learn to make the best of it. In fact, if you study Bradberry’s advice, you could become the most successful failure in your entire company.

According to the good doctor, there are five steps “you must take when you fail that enable you to succeed in the future and allow others to see you positively in spite of your failure.”

Step No. 1 is to “break the bad news yourself.” Instead of your usual reaction – covering your face with your mouse pad so no one can see you – a successful failure announces their screw-ups to the world. As the author says, “When someone else points out your failure, that one failure turns to two.” And when that “someone else” points out your failure to “someone else a whole lot higher on the org. chart,” those two failures become 50, and out the door you go.

“Offer an explanation, but don’t make excuses,” is step No. 2 to becoming a successful failure. “Owning your mistakes can actually enhance your image,” Bradberry writes, but that’s clearly not true. If it were true, then you’d have the best image in the entire company. On the other hand, copping to your blunders could help you in other ways. You’ll be so busy offering explanations for all your failures, you won’t have time to make any more mistakes.

(Uncertain about the distinction between an explanation and an excuse? An excuse is, “I messed up that project because I’m a big idiot.” An explanation is, “I messed up that project because a spaceship carrying tiny Martians landed on my desk and demanded I submit to probes or they would blow up the planet.”)

Step No. 3, “have a plan for fixing things,” covers what you should do after you did what you shouldn’t do. “Instead of standing there, waiting for someone to clean up your mess, offer your own solutions.” This makes great sense, and here’s an excellent solution you can use, “It’s obvious that I am incapable of doing this job. I think the only sensible solution is to promote me.”

Step No. 4, “have a plan for prevention,” also allows you to assert that your history of failures could be avoided in the future by giving you a major promotion. This may sound counterintuitive, but think of your boss. Do you have any doubts that the only reason she was promoted was because of all the blunders she made in her previous position?

“Get back on the horse” is step No. 5, the final chance at redemption for the serial blunderer. “Waiting only prolongs bad feelings and increases the chance that you’ll lose your nerve,” writes Bradberry.” He’s right. If you had quit after your first failure, you’d never have amassed such an impressive history of failures.

I hope that when it comes to making workplace mistakes, missteps, goof-offs, screw-ups, errors, gaffes and cosmic boo-boos, you will never lose your nerve. Serial failing is your greatest strength, and if Dr. Travis Bradberry can’t see it, I can. You never learn from your mistakes. You just keep making them bigger, most expensive and more damaging to your company and your career.

Making mistakes is what you do best, and to change now into a competent, productive, successful employee – well, that would really be a mistake.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at


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