Are you Ashamed of Your Failures? You shouldn’t be.

By Natanya Rutstein

Very few of us have escaped that dreaded moment where we have failed at our job in one way or another. Because of the negative connotations attached to failure, two of the most common responses are to either deny responsibility or to own up and bury the deep sense of shame and wounded self-esteem that envelopes you. You then silently move on from your mistake, processing the failure internally and never discussing it with a boss or colleagues.


Far too many people view their failures as obstacles with the potential to derail their promising careers instead of as opportunities with vast potential for developing resilience and learning opportunities. This is especially so when employees are still early on in their careers.

The reality is that we learn so much more from our failures than our success. Failure gives us the opportunity to honestly analyse and openly discuss our mistakes with others. We are able to figure out what went wrong and why? What we should do differently next time, as well as the competencies, knowledge and skills that we should focus on acquiring.

The true failure takes place when we don’t analyse and talk about our mistakes. We then run the risk of repeating the same mistakes. The result is a lack of individual learning and development as well as increasingly inefficient organisations.

In 2016 Princeton Professor, Johannes Haushofer bravely published his “failure resume” on Twitter, listing all the degree programmes for which he was rejected and academic positions he didn’t get. His rationale was to encourage others to keep trying and remain committed to their goals in the face of disappointment. Haushofer explained, “Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days.”

According to Sara Canaday, executive coach and author of “You — According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career,” the rise of start-up businesses has made failure far more acceptable by linking resilience, creativity and innovation to failure and framing the failure as a positive learning experience. In todays world of work, organisations are looking to hire resilient employees and a candidate with a “failure resume”, who is willing to talk about their failures as well as what they have learnt from them, may be just the right person to succeed in the job. Remember to err is human.

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