Think back to an early career setback.
Maybe you just missed gaining entry into your top grad school.
Or you made it to the final interview for your dream job, but didn't get the offer.
Perhaps the promotion you definitely earned went to a less-deserving colleague instead.
Looking back, did this early failure make or break your career? New research suggests early-career setbacks can ultimately breed later success (if you harness them and bounce back from them in the right away).
Harnessing frustration after failure.
A study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management compared two groups of young scientists. On paper, these 1,000 scientists looked the same career-wise. They had been working in the field for the same amount of time and had published the same amount of papers.
There was just one difference: some narrowly missed out on a prestigious grant, and some just barely won it.
The average grant awarded scientists $1.3 million for five years to pursue their research. This usually puts a young scientist on the path toward tenure at a university. Not getting one can be a major setback to one's career -- especially devastating for scientists in this particular near-miss group, who almost got it.
Between the near-miss with narrow-win applicants, would this setback make any difference 10 years down the road?
In the long run, the researchers were surprised to discover which group went on to be more successful. "The losers ended up being better," study co-author Dashun Wang said.
Perseverance pays off.
Some of those who narrowly missed receiving the grant dropped off entirely. They effectively gave up. The failure acted as a screener, removing those who were less likely to succeed.
But those who stayed in the field ended up not only bouncing back, but also bypassing their narrow-win peers. They had more successful careers when compared to their colleagues who had won the grant and had an advantage.
Specifically, the near-miss group went on to publish more successful scientific papers than those who narrowly qualified for the grant. Within five years, scientists in the near-miss group were more likely to have published a hit paper. And they did it without the $1.3 million their winning peers had.
Failure as fuel.
The theory is simple: Early-career failures can set you back. But you can also use these setbacks as motivation.
Instead of getting discouraged and giving up, you can double down to get better. You can improve. You can study harder, improve your interview skills, expand your skill set. You ultimately come back stronger than where you started.
"Failure is devastating," Wang said, "and it can also fuel people."