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If failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn lessons and make advances, it will result in positive outcomes. Individuals are evolutionarily hardwired to fear failure. The biological circuitry humans have developed results in the magnification of negative information and experience to the detriment of positive information and experience. Van Rooy advocates a type of learned optimism, where concerted thought and effort is put into pulling out the bright points of failure and working them into the fabric of a career trajectory.


Not all failures are created equal. Failure can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Preventable failures are one-dimensional. The only lesson to be learned is to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

  2. Failures driven by complexity can result in important lessons learned.

  3. Intelligent failures at the edges of human knowledge can create learned lessons with wide-ranging impact.

While the self-examination that inevitably follows personal and professional mistakes can be painful and humiliating, individuals can emerge from such reflections with greater insights into their limitations and greater knowledge on how to hone their efforts and learn from their missteps. Professionals should ask themselves questions after every failure to understand the situation and make needed corrections.

Failure is not inevitable, and a tendency to see it as inevitable reduces necessary risk taking and puts a cap on courage. Failure should be accepted, dealt with, and learned from. Failure is not permanent, but is simply a helpful transitory stage to the next accomplishment on a career trajectory. Failure should be put in its proper place.

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