I tend to be a perfectionist.
When I was in school, I wouldn’t hand in a paper unless I knew it was as close to perfect as possible. For exams, I studied everything and aimed to get 100%.
My perfectionism came from being the eldest of three siblings. I grew up wanting to be a good example for my brother and sister. It’s probably also because of my upbringing: Going to Catholic school for most of my elementary days, I was taught at a young age that there is right and wrong—that you were supposed to always strive to do the right thing. Anything less is unacceptable.
My perfectionism has served me well in school. I did well in a science high school in the Philippines. And when I moved to Canada in my mid-teens, I easily thrived academically. In my university days, hard work helped me make the Dean’s Honour list numerous times and to graduate with distinction.
But now that I’m in the workplace, I have a nagging suspicion that perfectionism is holding me back. My pursuit for perfection in everything I do sometimes leads to me to hesitate, to avoid new things.
That’s why if I were 22, I’d tell myself to embrace failure more. Failure is not a bad thing. Failing at things is part of life—and an important aspect of your career.
Here are some ways failure can help you thrive in the real world:
Failure builds confidence
Personally, I am not always comfortable speaking unless I know for sure that I’ve perfected an idea. Sometimes, I don’t want to say things on the spot, for fear of being judged because of an idiotic thought.
But in the workplace, meetings are fluid. And the difficult truth is that the loudest voices usually get the attention because they’re not afraid to speak up. They don’t always have the best ideas, but they are confident with what they’re saying.
When it comes to getting ahead, confidence matters. If you’ve failed so many times that failure no longer scares you, that helps you become more comfortable in speaking up. It builds your confidence in the long term.
It humbles you
When you’re 22, you think you know everything. But you don’t. Your GPA doesn’t matter. Your extracurricular activities don’t make you an expert.
You are not special. The earlier you realize this, the harder and smarter you work—and the better for your career. There’s nothing quite like failing at something to teach you that you are not a superhero.
It makes you more open to feedback
When I first started my career, getting candid feedback was a difficult experience. I’d get good reviews, but whenever I received constructive feedback, I focused on the latter. But that’s a problem when you’re a new professional: you need feedback to improve your current skills and to continue to gain new ones.
Perfectionists know that negative feedback stinks. Only through failure can you become more used to this type of feedback. In fact, when you’re unafraid to fail, you crave people’s input because they help you make corrections for the future.
Today, as a marketer and content strategist, I am a lot more open to feedback. Having thick skin just comes with the territory. For the most part, I try to be open to feedback from my colleagues, my superiors and the consultants that we work with. It’s how I evolve as a marketer and how I continue to hone my skills in content marketing. I wouldn’t survive this role if I didn’t learn the value of constructive feedback from earlier positions.
It lets you discover your weaknesses
Knowing what you suck at is just as crucial as understanding your strengths. You’ll never know what you’re not good at though if you don’t try.
Trying new things naturally involves failure. Whether you’re giving a product demo, managing someone, or writing a blog post for the first time, new experience can help you uncover things that you’re not naturally good at.
It keeps you growing
When I used to work in PR, my first pitches to media people were terrible and were therefore ignored. When I first started in social media, my first few blog posts were flops. You have to embrace mistakes like these because they help you grow. If you’re not making mistakes in your work, you’re too comfortable and you’re probably not growing anymore. Learning new skills—and advancing your career—require some vulnerability and failure in the process.
It leads to success
Barbara Walters, one of the most well respected journalists, wasn’t always successful.
“I was a total flop … But the best thing that happened to me was that I had to work my way back,” she once said. Successful people are resilient, and resilience only happens when you fail.
Failure is an opportunity.
Failure is an opportunity to grow. Let’s not brush it under the carpet. If you’re a new grad, you can embrace failure by doing the following:
- Look for opportunities to try new industries, new jobs and new tasks. The best time to experiment with your career is in its early days.
- Do your best. Embracing failure doesn’t mean being sloppy. Give your 100% all the time and ask for help when necessary.
- Own your failure and forgive yourself. When you stumble, take ownership of your part in failure instead of blaming others. Accept that failure is part of the human experience.
- Seek feedback. Regardless of whether you succeed or fail, always ask for input. There’s always room for improvement.
- Work with people and companies who embrace failure. You need to be in an environment where you are allowed to try new things—where your boss won’t kill you because you experimented and failed!
As new grads, you have a lot to learn. Be open to the fact that you’ll stumble a few times along the way. Embrace it. It’s all part of the journey we’re all in.