It has been my experience that during the course of an interview, there is a question that is very important to determine the self-awareness of the candidate, “tell me about a time when you failed at something, and how you handled it?” If the candidate responds suggesting that failure is not something with which they are familiar because they focus on winning and succeeding, the interviewing manager often terminates the interview shortly thereafter. Yet, if the response is the recognition of a time that the candidate failed and a description as to how such failure was handled, this is the mark of a good student and one that is prepared to respond to the challenges of work and life
The question, of course, is not meant to determine whether the candidate has failed or not and thus determine the viability for the position. The purpose of the question is to see how the candidate has dealt and coped with the experience of failure, in short, has the candidate learned from the experience and if so, what was learned? It is a matter of measurement of character; the recognition of the failure, what they learned and how to proceed the better for it.
Learning from our failures cultivates our growth of character and in general ourselves. The knowledge obtained is from our experience, it is something well beyond intellectual awareness of a principle or concept. It is the opportunity to gain “wisdom.” Some would define wisdom as the convergence of knowledge and experience.
Michael Jordan, perhaps the most successful athlete in recent memory cites his relationship with failure like this;
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.
I’ve lost almost 300 games, 26 times,
I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed.
Failure is a powerful teacher. The lessons derived from such experience become indelible in our minds. Such failures become ushers to great achievements when we combine them with determination and persistence. Failure is not our enemy, nor should it ever define us, it is part of the rite of passage we all must deal with, how we respond to it will be the difference between living in joy or living in fear.