Successful People Learn From Their Mistakes

Commitment to taking personal responsibility for your success is one of the keys to career and life success that is part of my Common Sense Success System.  I discuss it in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success, Your Success GPS, and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.  If you want to succeed, you must commit to three things.  First, you must take personal responsibility for your success.  Only you can make you a success.  You need to be willing to do the things necessary to succeed.  Second, you must set high goals — and then do whatever it takes to achieve them.   Third, stuff happens; as you go through life you will encounter many problems and setbacks.  You need to react positively to the negative stuff and move forward toward your goals.

Marc Cenedella is the CEO and Founder of The Ladders a job board featuring jobs at over $100,000 a year.  Last week I received an e mail from him describing how he blew a job interview – and how he chose to react to it. 

The story Marc tells makes some great points about committing to taking personal responsibility for your career and life success.  He was gracious enough to allow me to reprint it here…

Boy, did I bomb that job interview, and I was feeling really down.

I was coming out of business school, and had scored a great interview opportunity with a top investment firm in New York. I’d had a few great rounds with the team, but that day I was meeting with the “name” partners – the big guns who had founded the firm and whose names were on the door.

The senior partner was kind of an imperious fellow and, frankly speaking, not my cup of tea. But that was OK, because everybody else I’d met had an energy and an entrepreneurial drive that seemed well-suited to me. I was psyched.

But I just wasn’t clicking with this guy, and then he dropped my least favorite interview question of all time. It’s the question that they teach you not to ask in Interviewing 101 because it is so obvious, and so easily manipulated by the interviewee. It was that old hoary chestnut: “What’s your greatest weakness?”


And, not saying another word, stared politely right back at him. Probably with a little bit of a wise-ass grin.

OK, it was a pretty juvenile response, and I let my capricious side get the better of me.

Needless to say, things went downhill from there, and the interview ended in a polite, “don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out” manner a few minutes later.

Man, I blew that interview. And I felt like a schmuck.

So it’s inevitable that, some days, in some places, you’ll really goof up an interview.

And we’ve all blown interviews before. A job interview is artificial and awkward. You can feel like a butterfly under the magnifying glass, and it is uncomfortable to have somebody else poking and prodding you.

And it is how we handle the recovery that makes us a great professional.

Follow through with dignity. You’re probably feeling sheepish and a bit embarrassed, and would prefer to just hide your head in the sand. But as a $100K+ professional, that’s not what you’re going to do. Look, the best way of overcoming the failed job interview is to show those people who witnessed your setback that you are made of sterner stuff. Write polite, but brief, thank-you notes and be gracious. There’s no sense whatsoever in trying to overcome your gaffe, so don’t address it. Just thank them for their time, and let them know how much you enjoyed the opportunity. You’ll feel like you’ve come out a little bit ahead, and your interviewers will feel like your show of class is impressive.

Blow off steam. Go for a run, take a hike, jump into the lap pool. However you get your exercise, a little physical activity will take your mind off it, and let you get the stress out of your system.

Move on. If you’ve really blown the interview, there is no sense in wasting more time on it. You’ve got better things to do. Even Mariano Rivera blows a save – like he did on Friday night against the Mariners after converting his prior 36. The mark of a champion is to put the loss behind you and concentrate on doing better next time.

And a brief word to the wise – you really need to separate your emotions about the interview process from your rational assessment of your performance. I can’t tell you how many hires we’ve made here at TheLadders who later confided to me that they thought they had done poorly in the interviews. It is natural to feel anxious about the interview, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you’ve actually, really and truly blown the interview.

Get better. What was it that tripped you up? Knowledge about the company? Insight into that new technology? A few questions about an area that you hadn’t really thought about in the past few years? Whatever it was, use this as an opportunity to bone up for future interviews. Never see failure as failure – it’s just a chance to get better for the next time.

And that is how we come out ahead when the interview process throws us for a loop. We keep our dignity, we brush it off, and we improve ourselves for the next time.

Until that next time have a great week.  I’ll be rooting for you!

This is a great story that really captures the essence of committing to taking personal responsibility for your life and career. 

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people commit to taking personal responsibility for their lives and careers.  Mistakes provide you with a great opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to personal responsibility.  As you go through life, you’re going to make mistakes.  You’re going to screw up.  You’re only human.  The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and screw ups.  Marc Cenedella’s four points about dealing with interview mistakes – keep your dignity, do what you can to salvage the situation; channel your frustration into something positive, life exercise; put your mistakes behind you; and get better, so you won’t make the same mistake next time – applies to every part of your career.  They are the signs of a resilient person, willing to commit to taking personal responsibility for your life and career.  Remember them – better yet use them — the next time you make a mistake or screw up.

That’s my take on how to recover from mistakes and screw ups.  What’s yours?  Please take a few minutes to leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


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