There’s No Shame in Failing

By Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, author of Open Leadership, co-author of Groundswell

CTU Professional Development with author Charlene LiIn my experience, success doesn’t come from fitting in or playing small. Rather, success is a product of standing out and taking a stand. Sometimes, that means making mistakes or stumbling a bit. You won’t always get it right. You’re human. Failure comes with the territory. Don’t let your fear of failure cause you to miss opportunities for you to succeed.

I recall once, as a high school student, wanting to earn extra money. Rather than take the usual path of my peers, which involved dishing out fast food or babysitting, I accepted a job as a door-to-door salesperson, peddling knives of all things! I was terrible at it. It was hard. I didn’t like it. But I persisted because I knew that despite my dislike of selling it was a skill worth pursuing and mastering.

I share that experience not to encourage you to sell knives door-to-door, but to help you see how stepping outside of your comfort zone can provide valuable learning opportunities that can propel your future success.  As you look ahead toward your future, consider these ways you can stand out, potentially fail, and yet ultimately succeed.

Pay attention to the details. I’ve learned that small things make a big difference when you add them up. Consider the details that might help you stand out. That may mean always sitting in the front row of your classroom or at a conference session you’re attending. It might mean wearing a bright orange scarf every time you go to a professional networking event. What small actions can you take to help you get noticed?

Make meaningful connections. President Obama is often said to make people feel like they’re the only person in the room. In today’s highly distracted world, that’s a valuable skill: to make people feel like they matter. Consider how you can add value to a relationship in a similar way. Remember, it may be a subtle gesture – from how you make eye contact to the sincerity you show when you interact with others – that helps make a relationship more meaningful, and memorable.

Take chances. When I decided to embark on my short-lived career as a door-to-door salesperson, I took a chance. It was far from easy and it wasn’t fun, but the possibilities that experience created were innumerable. Dip your toes into the unknown. You may be surprised at what happens. If it’s not exactly what you expected, chalk it up as a lesson learned and move on.

Persist and excel. When it comes to standing out, always do something worth doing, and then do it as well as you can. For this, you’ll need the self-awareness to know what is worth doing and the confidence to say “no” to the things that aren’t a good fit for you.

Be true to yourself. If you like to wear plaid with polka dots – do it! Of course, you know I’m not just talking about your fashion. My point is that you are unique, so express it, celebrate it and live it. Your path is uniquely different than others who may be on a similar journey. Don’t be afraid to turn right, when others are turning left.

Bestselling author - Charlene LiCharlene Li is founder of Altimeter Group and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Open Leadership. She is also the coauthor of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book Groundswell, which was named one of the best business books in 2008. Charlene is a graduate of Harvard Business School and received a magna cum laude degree from Harvard College. Read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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Image Credit: Flickr/Emily Laurel