Can you safely fail forward?

Pam’s Blog:  Insights
Pam’s Blog: Insights


Let’s have some real conversation about failure and what the real impact is on one’s life. Everyone seems to think it is ‘A OK’ to tell folks that failing is a virtue that you must learn to do gracefully. While it is OK to make the mistake, you just need to know how to lift yourself back up and recognize the lesson learned and move on to the next opportunity.




Webster’s Dictionary has several examples of failure, but the one I believe best fits this conversation is: “nonperformance of something due, required or expected.”

Well, let me share with you from personal experience that failure can be devastating and you must be able to consciously make the decision to handle it in a way that will save your reputation rather than end it – because the perception of what others bestow upon you can break you down. You must truly believe that there are lessons to be learned from failing, that you must fail forward.

So you dig down to the depth of your resilience and your mental toughness to position yourself to find the lessons that can be learned and shared; you listen to the people in your life who care enough to criticize but don’t leave; they believe in you so they stay and continue to support you and push you to new heights.

There even seems to be this notion of failing safely. Is this something that can really be done? It absolutely is. Grandma says, “Baby as long as I can see, walk and talk I got your back. You can make as many mistakes as you want to until you get it right. You always have a place to come as long as I am alive.” Stomp your feet and clap your hands if this resonates with you.

Now, let’s take this to the workplace. Is there a cost to your career, reputation, and relationships if you fail? Is it how you fail that we should be examining here? Are there risks to failure? Have you ever experienced misperception of your abilities because you failed to achieve someone else’s expectation of you?

I surveyed a group of professionals that included both genders, ethnic diversity and various levels of leadership. They all had one thing in common – they believed companies do not provide a safe environment for failing forward. When it happens, you just need to be able to look within and connect with your trusted advisors to find the lessons to move forward.

Frankly, I am just bringing this up because we need to be honest as we create these inclusive cultures on what the tolerance of failure really is in our organizations. Personally, I am OK with failing forward and I want to know how to help folks fail safely.


  1. Excellent points! Many times, it is one strike and you are out. Your career gets derailed and you become known for that one mistake. All of a sudden, your potential is defined by your one failure. We talk about mistakes as learning experiences but we don’t really mean it. Having a strong mentor behind you can make a huge difference in your ability to recover. I think it is extremely difficult if you are out there on your own.

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