We all know the old adage that says that failing to plan is planning to fail, but that’s a completely different topic. What I’m talking about here is developing a plan for dealing with failure before it happens. Most times, we plan things out while wearing our rose coloured glasses and sound like Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, saying things like “best case scenario,” which isn’t really a step up from saying “in the best of all possible worlds” when you have your eyes closed to reality. Organizations that work on a project basis often employ a fantastic strategy called a premortem, that encourages staff to envision every possible nasty thing that could go wrong, and then come up with processes for dealing with those dystopian crises should they arise.
Whether you are searching for a new role, looking to advance your career, or even if you are happy with your current situation, you’ll want to have a failure plan in place for yourself.
Define Failure – most career practitioners will ask you what success looks like to you. Success is a socially constructed term, and it is different for everyone. Guess what? So is failure. If you are job searching, ask yourself if failure relates to not having an offer in a certain period of time. Not securing a position with a high profile organization? Not getting interviews? Being told repeatedly that you’re unqualified? Not finding jobs that fit with your background?
For the rest of us, failure might mean something like being downsized, or having your hours cut. Perhaps you haven’t been able to expand your existing role or secure a more senior position, despite trying.
Write down all the words and ideas that define failure. Brainstorm, like you haven’t brainstormed since you were 10 and had to write a short story for English class. Get wild and creative, and tell your internal editor to be quiet while you’re doing it.
Categorize Your Failures – Take that amazing list of potential failures, and sort them into categories. How many of them relate to time? Money? Job satisfaction? Job searching? When you sort through, see if you notice any trends. e.g. Do you have 20 failures under the money category and only 5 for job satisfaction? That would suggest that finances are a major concern (which would not be surprising). Pick your top 2-3 categories that have the most potential failures.
Begin Developing Your Failure Plan – Now that you have a sense of what your scariest potential failures are, you can begin analyzing them. Ask yourself why they would happen. Imagine being downsized, and you can’t find another job at the same pay grade. Scary, isn’t it? But you take a job anyway because you have bills to pay. Time to think of what you can/could do to minimize that problem: cut back on expenses, increase savings while times are good, take a second job (depending on the situation), change your living situation… there are options. Nobody likes to be backed into a corner, so if you take the time to analyze potential failures now, before they happen, you’ll be able to deal with them if that situation arises.
A Special Note for Job Seekers – Oftentimes we transfer our feelings of failure from the job search to ourselves. I’ve heard too many clients tell me that they are a failure because they haven’t secured their next position. You’re not a failure, your job search is failing. There is a huge difference! By putting a plan in place for dealing with an unsuccessful search, and defining what that means, you’ll be able to evaluate your job search strategies and activities, and correct your course if it isn’t working for you.
So there you have it – permission to let your pessimistic side run freely through flights of fancy. If you take the exercise seriously, it should alleviate some of the stress that comes with not knowing what will happen next.
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