Fail on an Olympic Level

Vice President Joe Biden reminded viewers watching his post-Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony interview last Friday night, of the way in which Olympic athletes risk failure in such a hugely public way, and praised them for doing so.

Usually we glamorize the winning play, the years of training, and the dramatic stories that lead to victory. World-class athletes dedicate years, or their whole life, to potentially achieve one small moment during which the culmination of their hard work might lead to the result they desire.  Statistically, though, they are likely to fall short. That’s a huge risk.

In the past year, I’ve been trying to fail better. Melissa Kong wrote last week about our fear of failure, how it holds us back and why our goals are worth taking a leap of faith. There are specific things that have helped me accept and learn from failure.

Fail publicly

Last year was my first year in a new job, my current job. And let’s be honest – I pretty much have the best job ever. So I really didn’t want to screw it up.

I knew that I would make mistakes. Even though I knew this, I tried to minimize those mistakes and keep them to myself.

That was stupid.

It simply created more and more pressure because I felt I had to maintain an image of non-failure, which not only is difficult, it’s unrealistic and people know that. It is not real or authentic.

People we work with or our classmates make mistakes or fail in some way, yet, a few moments or days later we usually forget. We often have a fear that failing publicly means everyone else will obsess over it as much as we do in or minds. But they don’t. The more you fail in a public way, the easier it gets.

Learn and move on

When I failed in the past, I would dwell on it. Ever replay something and what you could have done differently over and over in your mind? It can be exhausting.

As the saying goes though, hindsight is 20/20. If you’ve done everything in power to influence the outcome but still didn’t get the results you wanted, that’s okay. Figure out what the lesson is and move on to the next project, plan or idea.  When tempted to replay the failure in your mind, switch your train of thought to what you learned and how you’re going to apply it.  Cultivate the self-discipline to focus on learning instead of regretting.


If Olympic athletes can dedicate their lives to their sport and then completely fail on national TV, I’m pretty sure my failure when attempting a new project in which I’ve invested a few weeks, months or a year is just not that serious. For most of us, our day-to-day failures are not a matter of life or death or a personal branding disaster, yet we often make them seem this way in our minds. Perspective is important.


Kelly is a career advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she assists undergraduate business students with all aspects of their career development. Kelly received her master’s degree in Higher Education/Student Personnel Administration from New York University, and her bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison, where she majored in Political Science and Women’s Studies. Connect with Kelly on Twitter, LinkedIn or BrazenCareerist.

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One Response to “Fail on an Olympic Level”

  1. avatar Jim Horrell says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Thank you for an interesting and thought-provoking post. I agree that it is easy to look at our past failures and to dwell on them. It is difficult to treat a failure as a learning experience. A change in attitude is a task in itself. Life gives us many challenges and obstacles to overcome. Life is a great teacher and I have learned that sometimes when my journey does not go in the direction I expect, there are frequently hidden treasures that are found. A failure is an opportunity for growth. Keeping life’s challenges in perspective is key to turning adversity into a positive and potentially life-changing outcome.


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