If I were to ask in an auditorium full of enthusiastic people to raise their hands for all those who like to fail, I'm sure no one would raise their arm. In academic and professional life, they prepare us for success. No one teaches us what to do in the face of failure. Of course, there would be very little chance of success in a course entitled: Learn to Fail, that's not what it's about either. It's about understanding that there's no way to avoid risk or uncertainty; and that along the way, there is a chance of failure. And, if necessary, it would be good to know what to do.

In an interview I did with the writer Antonio Muñoz Molina, an extremely successful man in his field – he has won such important awards as the Princess of Asturias Award – I was surprised by the humility with which he told me: I have many novel projects that have resulted in failed publications. Instead of an awkward silence, he was dying of laughter and with great wisdom, he said to me: don't believe it, it's thanks to what went wrong that everything else started to go well. He's right.

In the face of failure, we tend to take two extreme paths: we opt for the catastrophic path, we punish ourselves and take a penitent and pitiful attitude, or we minimize what happened, we try to dust ourselves under the carpet and try to forget about it. We disdain the fact that between black and white there is a universe of shades. In failure, not everything is lost, and it is very important to learn how to address such a relevant issue in the professional and personal field. They don't teach us what to do in the face of a failed project. It's important to learn. He loses who does not understand and does not amend the path. A failure is a source of learning.

In this condition, the ultra-catastrophists and the super-optimists have to know that a failure is not an end period, and neither is it a comma, it is rather a full stop. A project that did not mature as we prefigured it does not mean that we have reached the end of a dead end and that we must remain resigned to despondency. Nor is it something trivial that can be dismissed and looked the other way as if nothing had happened. In both situations, the one who failed is losing. It misses the opportunity to analyze and amend.

Of course, failure can mean an absolute loss. The loser is the one who wants to throw himself into the void of an abyss, who foolishly insists on continuing to do what has already shown signs of being a mistake, who does not stop to assess what happened, who tries to throw the responsibility at someone else and does not take responsibility for what happened.

In my opinion, the hardest thing is to admit failure. You have to understand when, beyond putting in the effort, enthusiasm and perseverance, the project has already shown signs that it is not going to germinate. The numbers are overwhelming: if there are no profits, the goal is not reached. If instead of having more customers, there are fewer, it means that the plan no longer worked. If, despite the time of maturation in the period given to achieve the results, they were not achieved, we are facing a failure. Each project will have its own performance indexes that, if they are not achieved, should not continue on a path of losses and detriments. Let's not forget the fundamental truth: a business is made to make a profit.

Yes, the first step is to acknowledge failure. It is evident that in doing so, we are not left with a pleasant taste in our mouths. After the bitter pill comes chaos. Here come the pessimistic postures of teeth grinding and despair or minimizing the results. Be careful, both postures lead us to walk in the direction of the crab. It's much better to ask ourselves, what did I lose? The range of responses is very wide: it can range from the loss of a job, money, time, opportunity, and tangible or intangible material goods. It needs to be named.

Naming failure must be very precise, that is, it has to be concrete, clear and quantifiable. For example, I was fired from a job in which I earned so much, I was not hired in this company for the specific position, I did not get the concession of this specific business, the paperwork that was my entrepreneurship project broke, I was not accepted in that university where I wanted to study, the company we founded to undertake this project was not successful. Once named, it's important to analyze.

Analyzing failure means understanding two things: the reasons why the failure occurred and what I have left after the failure.

  • The reason for failure is an analysis that invites us to reflect and learn. It's about finding the answer to the question: what went wrong? In my experience, the honest answer will let us see that it wasn't all bad. It is about objectively separating the elements that did not contribute to the success of a project. Where did I go wrong? This answer can be very illuminating. We can realize that, with a rectification, we can set ourselves up for success.
  • What I have left after failure presents us with the possibility of learning and reflecting on what comes next. The wise popular saying that applies is: "Of the lost, the found". In a shipwreck, there are always items that can be salvaged. There is equipment that can be sold, things that have the possibility of being reused. Events from which we can gain experience.

Failure can be a source of inspiration to transform our bitter experience into a learning experience. It is achieved, if and only if, we manage to enter into a process of deep reflection on a change that came to us in life, in a totally opposite direction to the one we had planned. It is in these moments that it is very important to activate our brain and analyze with the learning approach.

I emphasize with emphasis that failure is not all loss. A learning approach invites us to reflect on the decisions that were made at a particular time: the failed patterns that served us to choose; misguided forecasts that did not come true; risks that were not considered; weaknesses that were not seen in their exact dimension; the red flags that were not heeded. Only a fool would repeat them. That is why reflections and learning are of great value.

From these deliberations, we have more elements to learn from our failed projects. Not all the plans we have can be realized nor all the goals are achieved. It's not about pouring lemon juice on the open wound, it's about learning everything that a project that didn't blossom the way we wanted it to.