Blog 2021 02 13 How to turn failures into growth in 5 steps?
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How to turn failures into growth in 5 steps?

As you might know, I’m writing a book, its working title is “The Seniority Trap”. From time to time, I’ll post some parts of it, before it gets released. If you are interested in the updates, please subscribe to my personal blog and let’s connect on Twitter!

Turning failures into progress is exactly what you want to achieve when you don’t succeed at something. As Nelson Mandela said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.” That’s the mindset we should all seek to have. This is exactly what you’ll get as soon as you stop blaming others and you take full responsibility for your career, for your life.

Let’s see what are the five steps that will help you overcome your failures and make incredible progress.

  • First, you will acknowledge that you made a mistake, you are flawed, you are not perfect. None of us is.
  • Second, you’ll understand that you need help
  • Third, you’ll seek someone who can actually help
  • Fourth, you take some courage and ask for help
  • Fifth and final step, you implement the ideas you received

Step 1: Acknowledge you are flawed

The first step is often the most difficult and it’s no different in this case either. Dealing with our own mistakes is a big mental pressure. The easiest way to deal with them for our brain is not to deal with them. It’s much easier simply to ignore our shortcomings and blame others.

Once you understand this defensive mechanism, once you understand that this behaviour is nothing else than averting the blame, you’ll look for these patterns. You’ll see it in daily situations. In the news, when politicians always blame others for their own mistakes. In the stores, when the clerks blame the system, whereas they just don’t pay attention to what they do. And yourself, when you blame the stores when you simply didn’t check correctly what you were buying.

You’ll see it in team meetings when people complain about a recent outage caused by a bug that was hard to test - so it was not tested at all. You’ll see on in your peers when they complain about the workload whereas they never said firmly that they cannot take more.

You’ll see it in yourself when you arrive home grumpy and you blame your bosses and negative peers because of your cranky behaviour.

Once you start recognizing these patterns, you’ll have the opportunity to break free. Until then you’ll be locked in a situation of ignorance and still. But this is not the calming stillness that Ryan Holiday writes about in his book Stillness is the key.

This kind of stillness is rather simply the lack of moving forward. Do you know what you are doing when you stay in one place while others are moving forward? You go backwards and the others are overtaking you.

Accept that nobody is perfect. OK, that’s something we already knew. Accept that you are not perfect! You are flawed and that you make mistakes! The more you act, the more you err. It’s OK, they are simply opportunities to become a better version of yourself.

Practice this attitude. If something doesn’t turn out the way you thought, think about where you could have done better.

When I wanted to get promoted to the next level as a software developer, I kept failing. Year by year, I did what I considered my best, I always went the extra mile - I thought -, yet I both failed to get promoted and to hit the highest level in the yearly performance review.

What I got were within targets as we call them and strong “within targets”. What a bullshit… In the beginning, I accepted these as normal. After all, I was and I am still young, there are so many for non-expert level software developers and I was in the middle. Like so many other people. Getting to the highest levels of non-expert software engineers seemed neither urgent nor realistic.

Soon I started to feel that I’m technically getting more competent than many of my teammates, I started to help others to get better and I had to take a bit more responsibility than before. I truly thought that all these were worth a promotion.

Yet I failed and failed. I blamed my boss thinking he didn’t pay attention. I blamed others who are eating with the boss, who are always having coffees with him - networking, instead of working - so they had an easier way to get promoted.

It took a long time, it took maybe two years that I realized that the problem was not with anybody else, but with me. I didn’t ask for enough feedback, I didn’t ask for advice, I didn’t communicate clearly my goals. I didn’t work on my progress together with my boss.

I had to change.

Once you see how you make mistakes, the door of growth opens for you.

Step 2: Understand that you need someone to help

The second step seems quite obvious, but it’s not so easy. You already understood that you are not perfect and from time to time you make mistakes. Mistakes that have to be corrected. Who will know how to act on them, who will know how to fix them?

“Me, me, me” - you’d say.

If so, that’s just another mistake.

Sometimes, it’s possible that you can act alone, but more often than not, you’ll need some help. At least to understand how you can fix the errors you made.

Asking for help takes courage, sometimes it also costs money, but not getting help will cost you even more.

When I realized that it will take a very long time to get promoted without knowing the exact criteria, I had to accept that I needed help. Maybe I could have done it otherwise. But definitely not so fast. I could have read more books and go with a try and fail approach. Each year, just try some other advice and if it doesn’t work, look for another method.

Probably I would have been eventually promoted, but it wouldn’t have been an effective approach. Asking for help was a better idea.

If you could already accept that you erred, it’s just a small, but important step to accept that you will need help to fix it. And even if you wouldn’t need help in all cases, you can act in a better way, if you ask for that help.

You might think that asking for help is a subpar act, but that’s an attitude you must forget right now if you want to grow as a professional, as a person.

Step 3: Look for someone who can help you

By this point, you accepted both that you are responsible for what happened and that you need help.

But who should help you? That’s the next thing you should think about.

Don’t just ask your family or your best friend. They won’t be the best people who could help you. Maybe they serve as great rubber ducks - and that’s an important role - but if you need help, that’s not enough.

Instead, think about who you know who faced a similar situation. Or who do you know who has direct control over your problem? If you don’t have an idea, think about who could introduce you to someone alike. If still nothing, post online on some relevant forums and ask for advice.

In my case, I had two choices. Either I ask someone who managed to get promoted in the same organization without switching to a managerial role - I didn’t know a lot, did I say I’m kinda introvert? - or I could directly ask someone who had decision making powers on who gets promoted and who stays on the same level. I went with the latter option.

Step 4: Ask for help

You know that you need help and you even identified who could potentially help you.

I know it can be terrifying to ask for help. Just like to ask someone out on a date. But in both cases, you must act and you have to bear in mind that you have nothing to lose.

Reach out to the person you identified and ask for help. Don’t go into long small talks with someone who you don’t talk to otherwise because they will just think about what this dude wants from me. Say a few nice words and get straight to the point.

I know, you are afraid. Everyone is busy. You’d be just a pain in the ass. That’s true. At least the first part. But everyone needs help from time to time, meaning that the other person will understand your position. Well, maybe sometimes you have to very gently remind him as you are reaching out.

Another key element to keep in mind is that you should ask for help in the least interruptive way. You don’t make a call. You don’t just pop up at his desk. You just send a short chat message or an e-mail. You let the other decide when it fits his agenda.

And that’s probably not the only reason you are afraid of asking for help. You might also think the other will judge you. Unless you really keep asking “dumb” questions every day, they won’t. They might find strange certain questions, but they will not judge you. They might even feel well, that they could help you. They will be proud that they knew something better. That their opinion matters.

Last, but not least, they might even find you more sympathetic. It is known as the Ben Franklin effect.

“A person who has already performed a favor for another is more likely to do another favor for the other than if they had received a favor from that person”

This has been confirmed by multiple studies. One was conducted in the late sixties. Students were invited to a Q&A competition where they could win some money.

After the session, ⅓ of the winners were approached by the teacher. He said that the prizes were from his own money and he had very little so he had to ask it back. Another third was approached by the secretary saying that it was faculty money and they had very little so they had to ask back the money. Another third could keep the money without anyone asking it back.

Those who liked the least the session were the ones who were approached by the secretary. Those who liked the session the most were the ones approached by the teacher. A refund request by an intermediary had decreased their liking, while a direct request had increased their liking.

We like to help people that we like. So if I say yes to your request, if I decide to help you, my unconscious will do everything to support that decision. If it means that I have to like you more, my subconscious will help me to like you more. It’s cognitive dissonance at work. My mind reasons that I help you because I like you. So I’m going to like you.

This technique is even used by salespersons. We should use it too.

When I asked for help from the boss of my boss, he was glad to help. Maybe it was not easy to fit me in his agenda, we even had to reschedule our meeting a couple of times, but when we met, he was fully there, focusing on me, on my questions and he gave me a blueprint of what I had to work on.

Did he like me more because I asked for help?

I think so.

People like courageous people and asking for help takes definitely some courage. But if he didn’t start to like me more right there, it definitely happened when he saw me implementing the ideas he suggested.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs some and it even helps to build better relationships.

Step 5: Implement the ideas you received

Finally! You made your homework and you asked for and received help. If the help came in form of suggestions, ideas, it’s your turn once again.

You have to implement the ideas.

Why wouldn’t you?

You already realized that you are not perfect and err. You even acknowledged that you need help. You figured out who might be able to help you and take the courage to ask for help.

You have the ideas that if implemented might help you.

Would you really procrastinate after putting in so much effort?

Would you grab the opportunity or just let it go?

You already gained momentum by doing all those steps.

Just do it.


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This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.