Career success depends on how you cope with failure. Whether it's a big failure or a small one — you must be able to bounce back. Much of the grand success in life comes from grand opportunity, and you don't find that opportunity unless you keep looking. People who are easily discouraged get fewer opportunities.
But how does one become good at failing? How do you bounce back quickly? Martha Stewart provides some good lessons in this area. Because whether or not you think she should have gone to prison, you have to admit that prison does not seem to have gotten her down. When it comes to scope of failure, most of us would have crumbled way before we got to prison. So take a look at the steps she took to ensure she would bounce back, and use them to create your own career resilience.
Of course, it's easier to have resilience when you have millions of dollars. But Martha made four tactical moves that you can do yourself, even on your relatively penurious budget.
Use your network as a safety net.
Networking isn't only for a job hunt. It's also for failure, which tends to make you feel alone, even if others fail with you. A circle of your own informal advisors and supporters can make you feel less isolated and help you to bounce back faster. You need a range of friends when you fail. Sometimes you need a lawyer, sometimes you need someone to hang out at a bar all night with you. When you are failing, and you think the damage is irrevocable, your network will help you get perspective.
And don't forget your family — the people who are usually last to abandon you when you do something stupid. During Martha's ordeal she was dependent on her daughter, Alexis. Alexis showed up for court every day, as is customary for families of the rich-and-famous-and-accused. But Alexis also visited Martha in prison and served as her mouthpiece to the media. (“Martha is fine. She is eating out of vending machines.”) Martha shows us that we are never too important to need family in our network.
Once you see things spiraling downward, face reality quickly and get out. The faster you fail the faster you can move on to the next thing. Denial can derail you. Don't continue to try to fix the unfixable because you can't face the fact that you failed. Martha had the benefit of many paid advisors to help her out of denial. Though you will have to depend on unpaid friends who may not be experts, listen to them to gain some perspective on how deep a hole you're in. It's always easier to see someone else's trouble than your own.
Once you see recognize big trouble, focus on speed. Martha could have dragged the court battle out even longer. She could have stayed out of prison while she appealed. But for the public, the drama will be over when Martha leaves prison, so she went in quickly.
Failure is loud. If it weren't no one would have to admit to failing. So once it's obvious, face the crowd and show that you can handle it. The most interesting failures are when people completely fall apart. If someone looks resilient, and not likely to fold, failure is not as interesting to watch. That's what you want: Such flair for failing that no one pays attention.
As soon as Martha left prison, she took steps to show the public that she was her same old Martha self- and maybe a little bit better. She took a chartered jet home wearing fashionable clothes. She strolled the grounds of her home feeding her horse and serving drinks to the media circus surrounding her home. She also took questions from reporters, which is brave thing to do in a situation when most people would be too embarrassed.
Frame failure for yourself.
Failure is subjective. You can frame failure as career killing, but you gain nothing from this outlook. A better decision is to frame failure as a learning opportunity. Martha announced that she's a better person after her time in prison. Most of us, in fact, are better people from our failures, but if you don't frame it that way to yourself, you lose the opportunity to consciously put the learning to use.