Jobs and the Future of Work

4 ways professionals can develop skills from failure

three women at laptops chat and laugh in a story about workplace skills

The best practice to overcoming adversity is to study the diagnosis of adverse events. Image: Unsplash/Brooke Cagle

Eli Joseph
Associate Faculty, Columbia University
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Jobs and Skills

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  • Most professionals tend to pay attention to successful parts of their careers, rather than learning lessons from the low points.
  • But negative experiences are inevitable in any long-term career, and professionals can learn to overcome such challenges.
  • Here are four tips that employees and academics can deploy to learn from negative experiences and develop workplace skills.

We tend to pay attention to the success of our academic and professional endeavours, spending less time learning from the low points of our careers as much as we think about the highlights.

Furthermore, there is a misconception that people experiencing career crises have exaggerated their capacity for stress in response to environmental influences ­– compared to other employees in the workplace.

However, most professionals in the workforce can agree that negative introspective experiences are warranted and out of our control.

We can point the finger modern troubles of the 21st century, which include economic recessions, domestic and international tension, countless social and intersectional issues, and the worst pandemic in world history.

Obviously, not everyone is negatively affected by these predicaments. Nevertheless, the people that have negative experiences in their careers cannot fault their managers – nor the uncontrollable events that may have occurred in the past.

The burden of blame falls on some of the conditional responses that were triggered by some these ongoing misfortunes.

Rather than investigating these triggers, we can explore four important tips that professionals and academics can use to develop these skills from adverse experiences.

1. Document the adversity

Personal success often can be preceded by repetitive adverse experiences. Nevertheless, a large-scale research study suggests that the key element of success is not persistence because trying again and again, only works if one learns from their previous failures.

One of the best activities to adapt to future adverse events is to document the failures, rejections and negative incidences. You can use a ‘failure’ CV or resume – a document that highlights our failures over time.

Examples of this can include ‘Have you ever been expelled, suspended or dismissed from an institution?’, ‘What are some of the companies that rejected you?’ and ‘Have you ever been rejected from a speaking engagement?’

Resume of failure
A resume of failure can help you learn lessons from negative experiences. Image: Eli Joseph

This adverse transcript can set the precedent to the lessons that you can learn from these negative experiences. The more failing events that I racked up, the more I examined the motives behind my actions.

Additionally, this document serves as an outlet to how I can rebound from each negative experience. We can even take it a step further to develop different strategies that you can implement in the future.

2. Track the gradual progression from adversity

Studies have shown that negative feedback from negative experiences has a stronger impact of elasticity than positive experiences. The best practice for overcoming adversity is to study the diagnosis of adverse events.

In the world of sports, players and managers review the “tape” of the last game to identify what went well, evaluate the areas of improvement, and progressively develop action-based plans for what they can do in the future to obtain better results.

Have you read?

Documenting your failures and negative experiences is not enough. Cultivating a progress report of these negative events will yield better outcomes in the future. In this progress report, you can set benchmarks to track your short-term and long-term progress from adversity to success.

You can also develop measurable methods of improvement as an assurance to your progression.

You can also obtain additional resources that may contribute to your progression. These resources may include actionable peer-to-peer feedback, skill-based educational programmes.

3. Recalibrate outdated skills

In an ever-changing environment of technological change, industry transitions and globalization that thrives on the need for advance tangible aptitudes, a further step of progression and sustainability is recalibrating our skills and getting rid of obsolete proficiencies.

Some obsolete skills can be digital and technical, while others can be mental and emotional. Though everyone has a set of unique skills that is needed in this interactive global economy, you should be open to exploring new dexterities that go beyond the gross domestic product of a respective country.

Whether you are pursuing the formal, informal, or self-directed track, lifelong education should be an imperative outlet for all professionals in the workforce to ensure improvement in knowledge, skills and competencies within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective. As you are learning, I implore you to take full advantage of all the resources that are offered to you.

4. Embrace the process and anticipate new challenges

People are often reluctant to try again after experiencing negative events in their professional career.

Most of us try to avoid making mistakes, simply by not pursuing new challenges. We try to sweep our failures under the rug and exclusively focus on the positive aspects of the process.

While chasing perfection, we are conditioned to “play it safe”, to go down this straight path. We are afraid to try new things, essentially killing our creativity while failing to realize that this idea of perfection is a moving target.

Through this process, people don’t develop new capabilities. I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and align yourself with different ideas.

Through uncertain events, we are not guaranteed smooth sailing throughout our careers. However, we can document, recalibrate, track and anticipate our challenges to ensure a successful career through developing new skills.

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