Don’t let ghosts of work mistakes haunt your career success

Everyone has work skeletons in their closets. Slip-ups include losing accounts, lying to your boss, and making severe errors that you think will follow you around for the rest of your job life. No so, says work experts. We’ve asked career pros for tips on how to release the work demons and embrace your career success without fear.

Learn from mistakes

Work mistakes won’t destroy a career forever, but failure to learn from mistakes may, says success strategist and lawyer, Carlota Zimmerman, JD. “It’s when we fail to learn from our mistakes, and either keep repeating them, or blame others, we destroy our careers,” she says.

Give yourself some slack

Unfortunately, for many of us, says Zimmerman, we’ve been heavily conditioned to feel that any mistake is proof of our unworthiness as human beings. “We read about people like President Obama, for example, focusing on how glamorous his life appears, conveniently forgetting that once upon a time, he was just trying to get on the national scale. He made many mistakes. And he learned many lessons,” she adds.

She shares that making mistakes is part of learning – as a person. “If you’re human, you’re going to make mistakes. All you can hope for is, over time, to make smarter and more interesting mistakes. And realize that the people who matter—the people in charge—might not see your mistakes as failures, but as proof of your courage, character, and worth in an employee.

Consider what’s causing your poor decisions

Zimmerman suggests asking yourself where your mistakes coming from: Is it a lack of judgment or because you hate your job and subconsciously are looking to be fired as a way out? “This is a very common phenomenon,” she adds. If you are discontent at work, try to find inspiration or think about finding work that keeps you passionate and engaged.

Realize the hidden value of setbacks

Sara Ferraioli, managing director, WinterWyman Staffing’s HR division, in Waltham, Mass., says her best tip for how to let go of a work setback is to keep in mind that most setbacks are simply a learning opportunity that can ultimately help you grow both personally and professionally. “Failure, adversity, facing challenges – they can ruin your day or strengthen your career. It’s all in how you approach the situations and deal with the aftermaths,” says Ferraioli. “Failure makes you innovative, and missteps should force employees to think creatively about how they handle things in the future to get the results they want. Additionally, when you experience challenges at work, you often learn more about yourself than you would during times of accomplishment.”

Learn coping skills from your mistakes

Failing can reveal how you react, cope and move forward with a project both in positive and not-so-flattering ways and, in turn, show your true colors and true strengths as a professional, says Ferraioli. “If your reaction to trials shows traits that you don’t like about yourself – for example, anger that comes across to clients or co-workers – change! If you handle setbacks and misfortune with integrity and resolve, you’ll set yourself up for success.

Mistakes pave the way to better managing

Ferraioli believes that when you reach the managerial level of your career, your previous setbacks can actually make you a better manager. “The adversity and setbacks you faced will help you connect with your team in a meaningful way,” she explains. “Handled well, you can look back on the mistakes you made in the early days of your career and use them as examples of your own professional growth and development.” And, when you share these stories with others it will make you seem more approachable. “Demonstrate how far you’ve come and give your colleagues a better-informed perspective on their own challenges,” adds Ferraioli.

Set yourself up for a comeback

The only way to go is up from a career setback. Tammy Perkins, chief people officer of Fjuri, a marketing consultancy, and a long-time career coach as says leverage this setback as a learning opportunity and a setup for a powerful comeback. “Do not allow a setback to define you or shatter your confidence,” she says. “Don’t allow fear of failure to prevent your future success. Move on and learn from it.”