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Rebounding After the Inevitable #EpicFail



Let’s just put it out there- failure stinks. Before all the optimists (myself included) chime in and remind us all that failure is necessary for success and that the world’s most renowned thought leaders have failed multiple times, I would just like to acknowledge that (yes, this is true) it still stinks. I’m confident Thomas Edison, despite what he claims, wasn’t always jumping for joy after failing multiple times when working on one of his many inventions or that Oprah was able to knowingly reflect the few moments after being harassed at work, telling herself that “she’ll learn from this one day”. However, failure is inevitable, regardless of who you are or what you do. Being able to bounce back with only a skinned knee as opposed to a broken leg is a skill that takes patience and practice. Below are some tips to help you get there.

It’s cool to be mad, disappointed and/or cry– just don’t do it at staff meeting. It is disheartening to put a lot of time and effort into a project or event and then have it not go as planned or worse, just bomb all together. Northeastern University’s Career Development office does over 135 programs/events a semester and not all of them go swimmingly. Initially, I would try to brush it off as “no big deal” if one of my events did not get the turnout I hoped. I don’t know why I did this, probably because I wanted to appear ambivalent or “strong” in front of co-workers but if you know me at all, you could tell I was lying through my teeth.  Also, I found that it actually makes you look bad. Why would I not care if my event/program doesn’t meet the incredibly high standard I placed on it. Not caring actually seems weirder and sometimes worse than admitting disappointment; colleagues may even question if I treat all my work with the same ambivalence. Also, it is not a bad thing to be sad or mad. Acknowledge your feelings and give them their due attention, even if for a short time. Don’t feel guilty for how you’re feeling; you’re reacting that way for a reason.

So, when you’re asked about a not-so-great event, be honest and use the sandwich method. Example: The event went pretty well, there were a few hiccups here and there, but overall for the first time running it in a new venue, it could have been worse. Obviously you’re welcome to be more specific, but you don’t want to hound on all the details either.

Admitting that you were wrong or misjudged something feels good sometimes. Recently I helped plan one of our signature events with a colleague. We moved the event from our office to the student center, changed the day and mixed up a couple of the workshops that are part of the day- so, a lot of moving parts. My colleague and I spent countless hours working on logistics, developing workshop outlines, and marketing the event. All of the changes we made, especially the day and location change, were met with some resistance from staff, but we soldiered on. Long story short: the event went smoothly but we only saw a 10% increase in student attendance, which was a pretty big disappointment given the amount of planning and promotion we put into the event compared to prior years.

During my one-on-one with my supervisor, as much as I hated to say it aloud, I admitted that I may have pushed for too many changes and that the other staff members probably had the right idea with regards to the event location. I then had to share this with all of the staff at our weekly meeting, including the people who didn’t agree with the day and location change.  Talk about eating a ginormous piece of Humble Pie. After admitting the potential misstep however, a small weight was lifted off my shoulders and staff was really supportive and reassured me that the idea was good in theory, but just didn’t pan out. Tip: when you mess up or misjudge, rip the Band-Aid off and admit your missteps. Then, ask for feedback from colleagues and supervisors. It only hurts for a second but you’ll be happier after the fact.

If you don’t succeed, try, try again – and ask for help. There are a million sayings out there for this one, but there is a reason “practice makes perfect” is every coach/teacher/parent’s 3rd favorite saying (after “I love you” and “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed”). It is because it is true. Whether you’re planning a big event, just starting out as a career counselor or creating a new workshop, know that the first time (or two) you do it, there will always be things you’ll want to change the next time or think could have gone better. Make it a point to schedule time to review student workshop surveys, debrief with a colleague or supervisor and review what you thought went well, what went okay and what could be improved. Also, everything’s better with a friend, even failure, so bounce ideas and thoughts back and forth with your event helpers and counseling colleagues.

Failure although not fun, is necessary. As much as nobody likes to admit defeat, after it is said and done, most of the time you can look back and say, “It seemed way worse in the moment, but I actually know what not to do the next time.” So good luck with your next event, program or meeting and remember, failure does not mean defeat!


Kelly Scott

Kelly Scott

Kelly is Assistant Director at Northeastern University Career Development and “blog master” for the Northeastern University Career Development blog, The Works. A self-proclaimed social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she likes experimenting with new technology to help clients define their personal online brand and enjoys reading and writing about workplace culture. Kelly graduated from Northeastern University with a BA in communication studies and a MS in college student development and counseling. Contact her via Twitter @kellydscott4 or LinkedIn

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