Oswald Letter

May the Force (of Failure) Be with You

This edition of The Oswald Letter is a guest post from Elizabeth Petersen, Simplify Compliance’s executive vice president of revenue and strategy.

by Elizabeth Petersen

Let’s get three things out of the way:

  1. I love Star Wars.
  2. I also love Star Trek.
  3. I’m only moderately embarrassed by admitting this.

Like most good Star Wars nerds, I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi on opening day. It was a big, fun movie, but when I look at it through a Star-Wars-as-a-metaphor-for-life lens, the film had an important central theme: failure. Almost all of the main characters’ story lines involved failure on some level.

And while I could talk about this space opera all day, to me, the movie served as a reminder that big stories often involve big failures. But it’s rare that we openly and honestly discuss failing and the critically important role it plays in our personal and professional maturation. Those of us who have “been there, done that” know that in life, some type of failure is inevitable. But what if we take this view one step forward and see failure as a necessary part of a success story? What if failure could be a GOOD thing?

In many cases, failure needs to happen for growth to occur—especially in our professional lives. Few of us are born with all the skills needed to make us successful professionals. Without making both grand- and minor-scale mistakes, it takes a lot longer (and it’s a whole lot harder) to truly learn core professional skills. On top of that, learning how to overcome obstacles and rebound from mistakes is the hallmark of the “grittiness” that defines truly great leaders.

That doesn’t make the act of failing any less painful. And personally, I’m not sure I’ll ever enjoy failing. But rebounding from a defeat and plowing into the next challenge is more palatable when we understand that failure is part of our journey.

The key in all of this is understanding how to make failure productive. Acknowledging that a mistake occurred is a necessary first step, no matter how uncomfortable it is. But after admitting failure and allowing a (very) short period of self-doubt, start to conduct a clinical, unemotional analysis of the event. What went wrong? Why? How can I prevent this again? And what have I learned that will make me a better employee/colleague/family member/friend?

Beyond this, recovering from failure requires a healthy dose of self-compassion. Forgive yourself, and remember that you are far greater and more complex than your last mistake. And remind yourself that avoiding failure generally equates to stagnation. (For a little business inspiration, check out this Wall Street Journal article on “New Coke Syndrome” and how Coca-Cola’s CEO called on his organization to “make mistakes.”)

More often than not, we’ve got to break it to make it. As Master Yoda reminds us in this most recent Star Wars installment, “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

May the force of failure be with you.

Elizabeth Petersen is the executive vice president of revenue and strategy at Simplify Compliance. Before her current role, Elizabeth oversaw Simplify Compliance’s healthcare division, HCPro. She also has held roles in HCPro’s sales, product management, and content development departments. Before joining HCPro, she held editorial positions at JBLearning and CCI Communications. Elizabeth lives in the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son and is passionately interested in corporate culture, innovation, women’s leadership, and caffeine.

E-mail Elizabeth your thoughts, questions, comments, and ideas, or connect with her via LinkedIn.