5 Things I Learned From Failing At Work 

5 Things I Learned From Failing At Work

The year I gave birth to my son was the year I got my worst performance ranking. To be fair, it wasn’t a bad ranking. It was average. But when you have a reputation as a high performer, average feels like a death blow to your career.

To adjust to my new family circumstances, I had taken up a new role at work. That meant a new team, new deliverables, new challenges. My response was to work as hard as I could. But I remember being paralyzed by self-doubt; my inner critic kept listing all the things I didn’t know and all the gaps in my competencies.

It ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. I focused so much on what I didn’t have that I forgot what I did have, what strengths I carried and how the experiences I’d had in the past qualified me to excel. I could say that this post is what I’d tell myself if I could go back in the past but I think there’s  space for failure, for learning in every step of your journey. So no, I wouldn’t change a thing.

1. Trust your journey.

Have faith that even failures somehow contribute to your goal. This belief frees you from the fear of making mistakes and gives you the confidence to take risks outside your comfort zone. The real loss would be learning nothing from failure. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison was on to something.

5 Things I Learned From Failing At Work

2. Prioritize and focus.

I volunteer for quite a number of “extracurricular” activities at work. These are things I’m fairly good at and at a time when I was struggling to get a handle on my new role, it was easy to reach for these tasks because they gave me a sense of achievement. But it was a cheap achievement because I was using them to distract myself from the real work of learning. Again, I was playing it safe within my comfort zone, forgetting that this time around I had time constraints. I should have used my limited time to put my nose to the grindstone on the activities that mattered the most.

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3. Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.

I suffered from a bad case of imposter’s syndrome and every slight critique I got crippled me even further. I couldn’t recognize myself in all the previous accolades. And every time someone made a comment like, “Motherhood has changed you,” I felt guilty and fated to live out the old stereotypes.

4. Find your equilibrium.

Elizabeth Gilbert argues powerfully that success and failure are both sides of the same coin and how they can both be detrimental to doing our work. She argues that we do our best work when we’re balanced mentally/emotionally, and not at either end of the success/failure spectrum. I agree with her. You can watch the talk here.

5. Question norms.

I would’ve saved lot of time and energy if I’d gone with my gut and questioned some of the processes I was working with. Instead, I trusted the system to have created the most optimized way of doing things. I ended up spending a lot of time and following “long routes” that didn’t necessarily add value.

Still, I wouldn’t change a thing. But I hope you can learn a thing or two from my experience.


How did motherhood affect your work?