Every successful person I've met has told me about the many failures in their life - both personal and professional.

I've had several failures. My first book was rejected several dozen times and never saw the light of day. I was turned down by almost every university I applied to. I couldn't make my first marriage work.

Each of these failures turned into a startling turning point that led me down a new path I couldn't imagine. If it wasn't for my past failures, I wouldn't be the person I am today.

So why is it so difficult for us to talk about our mistakes? I remember once watching Dr. Phil on The Larry King show in the 1990s and when asked what his biggest weakness was, he replied: "I want to do too much." Give me a break!

We've grown a lot since the 1990s. People want the truth. They can handle the truth. Social media, for all its ills, has a way of giving nobody a break. If you try to bluff your way out of something or sugarcoat a situation, there's plenty of denizens ready to pounce on your euphemisms.

There is a line, though. Cross it and you can come across weak, resentful, off-putting. There's the right way and the wrong way to talk about your past failures.

Be honest and talk about what you learned from failure.

That's simply it.

Be honest. Declare the failure. Then tell people what you learned.

The ultimate message you're sending is that you were enlightened. The failure opened your eyes. I'm not telling you to lie if it didn't - and in that case, you should reexamine how you handle failure - but put the mistake in the context of how it shaped the person you are today.

Admittedly, this only works if your failures happened some time ago. If you were just laid off or fired, it would be difficult to do this the next day. What sort of learning would you have had in 24 hours anyway?

John Chen, the Executive Chairman and CEO of BlackBerry, told me a wonderful thing on Radiate. He said that at one point, he was basically looking for people who failed at startups.

"I wanted to start a new business and I didn't wanted to teach those people the pitfalls of failure or where the problem is," he said. "The people who actually have failed before gave us a lot of good insight and experience and also have the proper attitudes about not thinking everything is smooth sailing."

Exactly. He was looking for enlightened and experienced people to join his team. Chen just renewed his contract at BlackBerry after turning around a failing company. He knows a thing or two about rising up from the ashes.

So don't be afraid of failure. Talk about it.

Published on: Apr 2, 2018
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