Career Advice: How to fail – and succeed – like a baby

Picture of a happy baby, having learnt to walkWhat kind of relationship do you have with failure?

When you think of failing, what comes to mind?

I ask, because the way you think about and deal with failure is key to how you live – and to your chances of success.

That holds true whether you’re searching for a new job, working towards a career change, transitioning from a career break or a redundancy… or working towards any major life goal.

Most people think of failure as the opposite of success.

They view failure as losing; something painful, shameful and to be avoided at all costs. If this is how you think, you’re making things unnecessarily hard for yourself… and I invite you to trial a different perspective – with a somewhat unusual role model.

The most successful failures I can think of are babies.

If you’ve ever watched a baby trying to stand – learning to walk – you’ll know that it doesn’t come easy. First, they start crawling. Forward, backwards, sitting, scooting; every baby has their own way of getting the process started.

Then comes the stand. Pulling themselves up on sofas, tables – or people – they practice getting vertical… but without the muscles, skills or co-ordination, they hit the ground over and over and over again. They struggle, they stumble, they fall… and yet, all other things being equal, eventually, every one of them learns to walk.

It’s not that babies enjoy failing. If you’ve ever seen a baby hit the deck, you’ll recognize the look of shock – and then the howls. Frustration, impatience, anger… even rage. Babies feel all of these things, they just don’t let it stop them. Once the feelings pass, they dust themselves off, learn from their mistakes and try again.

It helps that babies don’t have that far to fall. When they stumble, as they inevitably do, it rarely does any real damage; they survive to try again. They learn in increments – literally, in baby steps.

There’s a lot we can learn about failure – and success – from babies.

Babies don’t sit around bemoaning how hard it is. They don’t beat themselves up for not having ‘got it’ by now, or feel humiliated by the process of learning. They don’t tell themselves they’re hopeless, or torture themselves with what others will think. And they don’t decide they’d rather sit there forever, than risk trying and make a mistake.

Just as well, or we’d all still be crawling.

You almost certainly don’t remember being a baby, or how very hard it was – and how long it actually took – to learn to walk. But if you can walk – or talk, or read and write, or ride a bike, or drive a car – then you’ve got it in you to fail until you succeed. And every one of us fails our way to success – if we take baby steps, keep learning, adapting and persevering. 

Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s the process and path towards it.

Every successful person out there has succeeded because they failed – often many times – then learnt from it, and kept going (possibly after sitting down and howling).

Whether your goal is to choose a career, change your career, find a new job, climb Kilimanjaro or do the Kokoda, it likely won’t come easy. There will be set-backs and obstacles, and it may take longer than you’d like.

Doing anything new is always challenging; your attitude can either help or hinder you.

My advice? Relearn to fail – and succeed – like a baby.  

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