Learning to Fail: Turn Mistakes Into Success in 2017 #CarnivalOfHealth Blog Post

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It’s that time of year again – where anticipation runs high and dreams are either realised or shattered. What am I talking about – the ‘End of the year Business Review’? Winning medals or crashing out?  No I am talking about something much, much closer to home – the impending nursing school acceptance decision.

As the date looms on an ever-nearing horizon, my thoughts turn to “what if?”

What if next week’s email gives my daughter the result she desires? Or what if her results are not as good as expected and I have to help her manage what will be a crushing disappointment? I have thought carefully about this and while wine is a temporary solution to both scenarios, “failing” to get into Nursing School may not be the tragedy that my daughter is imagining at the moment.

Learning to fail and learning from failure are important parts of a growth mind-set.

Never failing means never progressing; the willingness to open up oneself to failure means that we stretch outside of our comfort zone and limitations to progress towards new and better skills and abilities. To quote JK Rowling;

It is impossible to live without failing at something,
unless you live so cautiously, that you might as well not have lived at all;
in which case, you’ve failed by default.

So often we are scared of using the word FAILURE, that we miss the point that SUCCESS is born out of it.

If we can’t admit a mistake, then the likelihood is we will keep on making them.  Matthew Syed in his book “Black Box Thinking” examines how we develop psychological strategies to avoid admitting fault and how we could all do well to learn from the aviation sector.

Aviation is one of the safest forms of travel; last year there was one crash for every 8.3 million take offs!  Why is the figure so low?  Mainly because of the ‘Black Box” which after any accident is analyzed and the findings immediately incorporated into new technology and procedures.  I now completely understand why, when on a flight back from Hawaii many years ago we were delayed in California en-route when a fault was discovered with the Black Box.  If there was no way of finding a potential mistake, there was no way the authorities were allowing us to fly.  I for one feel very comforted that the aviation sector is bold enough to say “yes we made a mistake”, hold up their hands and admit it rather than spending wasted time and money covering their proverbial rear end!

Often individuals, teams, organizations spend far too much time justifying their actions when things go wrong rather than admitting mistakes happen and examining what can be learned for next time.  If we look to the sporting world there are many stories about athletes not getting it right first time but investing time and effort looking at what wasn’t working in order to hit upon the magic that is getting it right at the right time.

As healthcare leaders we need to encourage and cultivate an environment in our clinical teams where we give permission for our people to learn through making mistakes.

I am not talking here about taking huge risks but delegating effectively rather than worrying that the job won’t be done as well as we could do it.  We need to invest our time in developing others and give them freedom to try out new approaches that may be different to our tried and tested ways.

After all isn’t being thrown in the deep end and making mistakes how we all learned at some point?

Indeed, some of the best creations have come from “not getting it right” – JK Rowling being just one example!

When many of us hear the name J.K. Rowling, our thoughts immediately turn to her multi-million dollar literary empire, her extraordinary international success, and of course, a boy wizard.

Yet few people have failed as hard as J.K. Rowling has. Before that boy wizard was just an idea of a paper napkin in an Edinburgh cafe, she was living off welfare, divorced, and jobless.

But in a 2008 Harvard commencement speech, she notes that her early failure a “gift” that was “painfully won.” Through her failure, she gained valuable knowledge about herself and her relationships, as well as the courage to face adversity head-on to turn unfortunate circumstances into success.

Few of us are in situations as destitute as Rowling’s. Still fewer of us will achieve her level of fame and wealth that now eclipses the Queen of England’s. But all of us have — and will — fail.

So, what advice will I pass onto my daughter next week?

Whatever the outcome we will celebrate in some way; if the results are what she wants, then fantastic!  If not, I will be a shoulder to cry on, then encourage her to think about “what else?”

It will be time to seek out other opportunities that could be as good and maybe even better than the traditional collegiate path.  After all there are plenty of examples of people who followed an entrepreneurial path instead and enjoyed success and happiness.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently – Henry Ford

If you have any tips on using failure as a springboard for success, give me a shout-out or leave a comment!


This post was written as part of  the #CarnivalOfHealth, a Pop Up Blog Carnival hosted by the Healthcare Marketing Network.  

More great posts by freelance healthcare writers on this topic can be found on the Healthcare Marketing Network blog.

If you are a healthcare freelance writer or blogger and are interested in joining our tribe and participating in future blog carnivals, sign up here to receive notice of our schedule and topics for 2018!


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Carol Bush

Partner | Content Strategist at Healthcare Marketing Network
I am a co-founder of the Healthcare Marketing Network, a content creation company that specializes in connecting Healthcare Writers with Healthcare Businesses looking for creative & factual articles and blog posts. I write and speak about healthcare social media & integrating digital skills in nursing practice.

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