Failing With Grace, Style, and Humor

It’s obvious we are all striving to be the best we can be, but in order to do that we sometimes must face the cold, hard reality of failure. Don’t worry, I’m about to turn your failure status from ugly duckling to graceful swan! Find out how to use humor in the workplace, responsibly. Written by Juliet Rocco 

I’ve been participating in a Women’s Leadership Certificate Program at RIT that promotes women’s growth both inside the workplace and out. This past Friday I attended a workshop entitled “Leading With Humor, Coping With Failure.” We’re all humans, everyone is going to experience an epic fail moment every once in a while.

The workshop was held by Mary Ellen Coleman, an Advisory Software Engineer at IBM. She had us begin by writing down a personal failure of our own. I sat there for a few good minutes thinking about a truly defining moment when I failed. Sure, math exams and hockey games came to mind, but there was something bigger that I had been repressing for a while.

When I was 17, I failed my road test for the first time. I felt defeated, yet I knew I fully deserved to fail because I was too scared to actually practice driving around. The fear of failing had already been eating away at my mind before I even sat in the driver’s seat. To make things worse, my parents said they were “disappointed” with me. It’s one of the biggest blows to my psyche when someone says they are disappointed or “expected better” of me.

In the next two weeks leading up to my second test, I practiced multiple times a day with parallel parking and remembering my turn signals. This time I was motivated to do everything I could in order to pass. The hard work paid off and I got my license! (Practicing in a church parking lot may have helped a little too)

Here’s what I learned from the workshop:

Mistakes foster innovation: I go to a university where innovation is the key to success. We are constantly being encouraged to create and think of new ways to solve problems. Think about some notable inventions that were mistakes; potato chips, Kleenex, Silly Putty, and pacemakers just to name a few.

Put a positive spin on things: Even though I failed my road test the first time, I realized I could only become a better driver by actually pushing myself to practice.

Know your audience: Joking around with co-workers and joking around with your boss are most likely two different things. Be aware and sensitive to these differences. Obviously, you always want to avoid touchy subjects about race, religion, and gender.

Learn to laugh at yourself: “Someday, we’re going to look back at this and laugh.” That’s what I tell people when something doesn’t go quite right. Making light of the situation afterwards really helps and expressing to others that you’ve gotten over the hump will show resilience.

Takeaway: I can’t stress enough how important it is to simply laugh at yourself and show people that even in a difficult situation you can find the lighter points and capitalize on them. Embrace change and learn from mistakes by going through a reflection process. Your parents were right when they used to say, “think about what you’ve done.”

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