What You Need to Know to Reframe a Failure

What You Need to Know to Reframe a Failure
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Here’s an unfortunate truth: you will fail. Hard. At some point in your life, if not already, you will experience a gut-wrenching disaster that will make your well-laid plans go up in flames. The only people who avoid this possibility never try anything new — which is an even worse fate. This assertion leads us to the good news: you have plenty of company! This blog column and the complementary video series, Career: Reset, will delve into those moments when your work life requires a reset, whether due to a layoff, a failed product line, a pandemic or any of the myriad of things that disrupt our professional plans. And what better way is there to start our series than taking a step back to reassess those reset moments. Now let’s dive in as we work to reframe those moments of failure.

Accept the invitation to learn

When asked about dealing with mistakes she made in her career, Carmen Fontano, Emerging Tech Lead at Centric Consulting, said, “Yes, those moments are setbacks, but they are also invitations to try something different. It’s human nature to beat yourself up for a bit, however over time, you need to reframe mistakes as learning experiences.” By taking the necessary time and doing some introspection, lessons can be learned, and new tools can be gained. Some questions to consider asking yourself are:

      • How could I have been more prepared?
      • If I were to do it all over, what would I do differently?
      • Are there any other lessons I learn from this experience?

An honest appraisal is critical to turning a setback into a learning opportunity for future growth. Nothing is gained when we place all the blame on external forces and don’t hold ourselves accountable. Real growth requires an authentic assessment of our shortcomings and oversights in that interaction. Unfortunately, this introspection does not mean that we are immediately free from feelings of failure and disappointment. It takes time to move past it, and to do that, we need to keep a healthy perspective.

Keep a balanced perspective

This moment of disappointment may feel like it’s your whole world. It is not. It is but one aspect of who you are. Carmen was able to acknowledge this truth in her life as well. She is a cancer survivor, a donut mile runner, a mother, a vlog interviewee, and, in her first managerial position, she was a lousy manager. It was a typical mistake. As a young manager, she acted like the manager she would want, not recognizing each employees’ different needs. The apparent result is that it didn’t go well. In the end, it was one challenging moment that taught her a lot, but it did not define her as a leader.

We have so many ways we distribute our time, energy, talent, and money. Even if our main endeavor fails, there are still other areas of our being that make up the whole of ourselves. Maybe it is good to take a step back from that primary endeavor and redistribute our personal resources for a period of time. It can be a chance to find a healthier balance and re-root ourselves and reconnect with personal core values that have been deprioritized. Whatever it looks like as we find balance, it is good to remember that we need to keep telling ourselves that this moment is only part of who we are now, and a small sliver of who we will be in the future.

Recruit accountability partners

But sometimes our voice is not always strong enough to keep that balanced perspective. That inner dialogue can be a rabbit hole into a very dark wonderland. One of the best ways to break up a negative internal dialogue is to stay plugged into your community. Connecting with community does not refer to your online following, but to those around you who genuinely know your fortes and failings. During such setbacks, it is the time to turn to those people in our lives with whom we have built up relationship currency and who can speak hard truths and offer strength. These trusted external voices ensure that our internal monologue stays rooted in that balanced reality we are trying to create.

Additionally, Carmen noted that we don’t need a crisis to lean into these relationships. During the video interview, she expounded upon how these accountability relationships help fuel productivity and attain goals in her day-to-day life. Remember, to start today and build that traction for a rainy day.

We know that the stormy weather will come. However, these dark days only hold us back if we fail to summon the willpower to find the knowledge learned and usable insights gained from these experiences. It is when we have the strength and fortitude within us to push the reset button and apply these hard-won lessons that a reboot turns into a successful upgrade.


Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.


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