4 Important Lessons for Building a Professional Career Through Failure

4 Important Lessons for Building a Professional Career Through Failure

A typical professional career is a roller-coaster ride full of highs and lows. The highs include every positive experience: the big promotions, celebrated raises, and hard-fought achievements. The lows include the missed deadlines, failed deals, demotions, terminations, and failures we’ve all endured at some point in our careers.

We constantly promote our achievements but rarely spend time addressing the lessons learned from our failures, let alone draw inspiration from them. Although we love to focus on our career highlights, we can pull some valuable, career-building lessons from the lows.

Lesson #1: Perfection Is a Myth

We live in a world in which everyone strives for perfection. But in our quest to “be perfect,” we hurt ourselves by overindulging in activities that are meaningless to our long-term goals and future success.

Perfection is a moving target. It changes as you grow in your career, and therefore, it’s never attainable. It’s all relative in the end. You must keep moving forward and find what’s best for reaching your goals, even if this involves actions or steps that are far from perfection.

Chasing perfection will always hold you back, and it will keep you from giving your best energy toward achieving what you set out to do.

Lesson #2: Nothing Is Impossible

When facing something difficult, people like to say, “It’s impossible to complete this task.” Now, that may be true from their perspective. However, if you trust in abilities and try to complete this “impossible” task yourself, you may find that it’s possible after all.

Letting other people’s views of what can be done will hold you back and stunt your skills and abilities. When you’re building your career, you must show no fear in pursuing something that no other person has dared to.

Be that person who achieves the impossiblewhose achievements are added to the record books.

Lesson #3: A Dream Job Is a Wrong Job in Disguise

Dreams are short-lived. They aren’t meant to last long periods of time, which means today’s great opportunity could (and likely will) be outdated tomorrow.

Moreover, that dream job you’re yearning to obtain may not be the job you expect it to be. The hiring managers may realize you aren’t their dream candidate. Your dream job may exist in a toxic working environment where upper management doesn’t make the best decisions for you. Your dream job may ultimately be the wrong job, or worse, a nightmare.

Lesson #4: All Mistakes Aren’t Inevitable

Mistakes are inevitable in your career. But self-inflicted mistakes aren’t. These include:

  • Making the same mistakes twice
  • Burning bridges
  • Having fallouts within your network
  • Providing too much information
  • Overindulging in conversations that are meaningless to a productive work environment
  • Violating explicit company rules

The lessons you learn from your original mistakes will only boost your career growth. However, uncorrected mistakes can derail it. Learn from your mistakes—and don’t repeat them.

Failure Is Vital

Failure is a vital part of your professional career. Within these failing moments, a story of your journey to success unfolds. Failure is a sigh of relief, and you’ll often realize that you’re not losing anything by failing. Instead, you’re getting ahead: you’re learning from your mistakes and gaining insights into your future endeavors. Let your failures become the catalysts that help you build a successful career.

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About the Author

DR. ELI JOSEPH is an author, educator, and public speaker who currently serves as a faculty member at Columbia University and Queens College and as a partner and medical examiner at ExamOne, a Quest Diagnostics company. Using rejection to fuel his professional achievements, he earned a bachelor’s degree at the age of 20, a master’s degree at 21, was named a Forbes Under 30 Scholar at 23, and earned a doctorate degree while teaching at an Ivy League institution at 24. As a partner at ExamOne, Dr. Joseph works with the nation’s top insurance firms, including AIG, Prudential, William Penn, John Hancock, New York Life, and State Farm. His new book, The Perfect Rejection Resume: A Reader’s Guide to Building a Career Through Failure (February 15, 2022), compiles lessons about failure from his own life experiences and those of seven influential thought leaders. Listen to his Ted Talk and learn more at