Why You Need To Set Yourself Up For Failure

interview failure

Why you need to set yourself up for failure? So you succeed when it counts.

Think of all of the high-level professionals you know who have put off learning technologies that are changing their industries. They know they should do it—but they don’t, until a crisis like a layoff forces them to get back into learning mode so they can become more marketable.

Why do they procrastinate? There can be a lot of reasons. Folks with big titles are usually expected to tackle high-level, strategic or client-facing work, so it’s easier for them to delegate learning a new software or social media to a junior colleague who reports back to them about it. If they don’t work for one of the enlightened companies with in-house “universities” that offer courses to keep employees’ skills sharp, they may not have much opportunity within their normal work week to learn a new skill—and little free time outside of work. And, I suspect, for folks who are seen as experts in one area, it is embarrassing to muddle through mastering something brand new with colleagues watching.
Any of us can find ourselves in the same position. In many fields, the need to learn new things can sneak up on us almost overnight.

So how to do you get back to the mindset of continual learning you had when you were in college or grad school, so you actually do what you need to do to keep your skills current? My suggestion is to take a class in something you’ve never tried, whether that’s a foreign language, a musical instrument or Ashtanga yoga. Giving yourself the chance to be a novice–outside of the high-stakes world of your work environment, where there’s little room for failure and mistakes—can help you get back into learning mode.

When I started taking taekwondo about a year and a half ago with my kids in a class for all ages, I realized how much value this has. Taekwondo moves are complicated, but most of the kids in the class just dive right into trying them, flopping around without any self-consciousness until they figure out what to do. Their approach doesn’t come naturally to me. Like many adults, I usually don’t stand up in the front of the room to do something unless I’m competent at it. My urge, when muddling through a new move, is to flee—not from the attacker we’re supposed to envision, but from being in the class itself.

But when I’m able to get out of my own head and really focus on getting each step right—which isn’t so easy—I’ve found I can learn the moves, too. When I’m hesitating to branch out into a new area in my business, I try to get into that mindset: Just focus on learning the next move. And it helps.

Thanks to globalization and new technologies, many of us are going to get swept into professional situations in the next few years that we didn’t get a chance to prepare for ahead of time. Getting more comfortable with on-the-spot learning seems like the best way to avoid backing away—and falling behind.

About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist who specializes in writing about entrepreneurship and careers. She was a senior editor for Fortune Small Business magazine, and her work has appeared in Fortune, Money,, Inc. and Crain's New York Business, among others.