Failearn (Learning by Failing.)

Caroline Cotto, LinkedIn, “Failing Forward.”

You don’t fail because you are a failure; you fail, typically, because you’re either trying to succeed in the wrong arena (my 5’10”, built like a rugby forward self trying to succeed as a jockey or a ballerina, if you can imagine such a folly – it’s okay, I never actually TRIED to be either of those things, though I’m a moderately competent hacker of big, bad-tempered equines…), or you didn’t learn from your failures.

If you didn’t learn, it’s probably because you’re not negative enough – you’ve bought into the “just move past it, think positively!” hype, and so, rather than looking at your failures analytically, developing and testing hypotheses as to why they might have happened, you happy-happy-joy-joy’d your way through life, grinning inanely and singing “I’ll get there in the end.”

By far the most common reason for failure is that you’re trying to succeed in the wrong arena. Now, that sounds sage, and vaguely self-help guru-y, but is actually a pointless piece of information if you have to claim government welfare support while you’re looking for employment, because you don’t have savings, a supportive family, or a spouse who is earning. In the UK at least, the government don’t like the idea that the people who need welfare support should also have the same right to find a job that works for them, and that is a good fit – they don’t get that, if a job fits, and you fit the culture, you’ll probably stay there, rather than ending up being one of the “revolving door clients” that get moaned about.

So; how to be “positively negative” when faced with a bureaucracy that doesn’t allow for “finding your niche”, personal empowerment, or any of the things that career coaches and the happy-happy-joy-joy brigade will tell you you “should be” doing?

Start with the cliched-but-good “mind maps”: once you’ve identified roles, sectors, etc that would be a good fit for you, and cultures you would be a good fit for, think “outside the box” (see, negative types can use jargon for our purposes, too) – start with the things, companies, skills, roles you feel genuine passion for or about, and move on through stages of separation, until you get the “likely to appear in reasonable enough quantity and frequency to keep bureaucrats happy, but vaguely related to my passion.”  Keep this mind map to hand.  Apply for jobs – a mix of the “outer edge”, vaguely-related roles, those in the middle of the web of relationship, and your core passions.  Try and weight it a little more to the “common jobs, vaguely related” – this fools the bureaucrats into missing the fact that you’re also applying for jobs that, in their view, you’re “not qualified for.”

For example: Your core passion might be to be a writer and motivational speaker.  The “closely related, but not exactly it” jobs would be things like fundraising roles for third-sector organisations, which will include telling people about the organisation with the aim of motivating them to give money, and writing grant proposals.  The more distantly related jobs will be things like customer service – where your communication will, hopefully, motivate people to purchase the company’s products, and social media marketing, where, again, you have the motivational communication element, but in written form.  The “non-core-passion” jobs are stepping stone roles; aim to stay there between 12-24months (a couple of years – it goes quicker than you think) and engage with the job, and the team, while you’re there. Offer to run “side projects” on your own time, that are related to the core business; you can then put these on your CV, and talk about them at interviews for jobs that are closer to what you actually want.

Positivity would send you further down the same dead-end track you’re already on.

Positive negativity, on the other hand, will divert you onto the road that leads to your preferred destination. It might take longer than expected, you might encounter tailbacks and roadworks, you might need to take a couple of comfort breaks – but you’ll get there eventually. As the opera singer Beverly Sills observed, there is no shortcut to anywhere worth going.

Oh, and my song of the moment? MeatLoaf’s “Blind as a Bat”, because of the line “for reaching out to help me across the bridges that I burned”; it acknowledges that we screw up, often in quite spectacular fashion, but promises redemption, help, and support from others – if we take it when it’s offered. You have to grasp someone’s hand when they reach out for you, after all.


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