I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. There were plenty of familiar faces I enjoyed seeing, and plenty of familiar faces I did not enjoy seeing. The holiday spirit is upon me.

As a topic that’s come up a lot lately, especially in light of the holiday season, I’d like to talk a bit about failure today. Failure is something that a good engineer comes to expect and anticipate, something that a great engineer can work with beneficially. But the overall idea of failure goes well beyond structural fractures or meltdowns, and my focus today is more in the direction of abstract failure as we so eloquently complain about.

Failure happens to everyone. It happens every day. And yes, it is a scary thing, but as humans we are fortunate enough to be able to adapt to any and every scenario, including failure. Typical failure may be failing a test, or failing to yield at a red light, or failing to have that cute girls number written for your own pleasure, or even failure at simply waking up on time. Each form of failure has negative consequence(s), especially the failures that I’ve been hearing about lately: failing at personal goals such as losing weight, saving money, or failing to secure a job through an interview. We become so intimate with these undertakings in the planning phase that, when the mere concept of failure is presented to us, we either ignore them or, worse, shut down and cancel our plans.

I have failed many times, with the most painful ones to me being failing with women or failing with career-oriented goals. For years I chased women (unsuccessfully) and was turned down at what felt like the most emotionally catastrophic timing. And as I mentioned in a previous post, despite a lot of hard work and the appearance of confidence (at least in my blog post), I struggled with submitting my resume to Boeing. I was so taken back by the fear of rejection that I did nothing.

However, I don’t have to live like this, and neither do you.

From what I’ve learned lately, particularly with Ramit Sethi’s excellent blog/email newsletter titled “I Will Teach You To Be Rich,” we can make habits that will, over time, develop our minds to actually ANTICIPATE failure, and then turn it around to better ourselves (the article can be found here, but I will briefly describe it below for relevance). The best example he gives is such: you go in to a job interview, feeling confident (and of course, slightly nervous). After waiting a week or two with confidence enough to start celebrating, the daunting news arrives that the position was given to someone else.

What do you do?


As an angry and ill-thought person, I would have begun blaming everyone involved but myself; the interviewer, the receptionist with whom I coordinated the meeting, even my friend or relative that pushed me into that position. I know I’m not alone; we see these reactions in others that seem irrational at a distance, but when we’re in it, there seems to be no alternative.

But wait… There is.

What Ramit has done and teaches readers to do is be thankful for the opportunity (see what I did there?) and remain in contact. For example, after receiving the news, I can reply to the representative and thank them for their time shortly, then maybe end with an offer for follow up information. A week later, I may send another email with some research I have done about that specific position, maybe some big news that just came out, or perhaps my own solution to a company problem. Yes, this takes time, and yes, this takes extra work, but if you play your cards right and leave them wanting more, it is extremely likely for you to get your foot in the door with the next employment opening.

My goal: I want to make this normal for me. I want to do something, expect failure, anticipate failure, and work with it beneficially to prove not only that I’m a good engineer, but I’m a good employee. The dilemma is that I am working through finals and have my life focused on school, where I surely do NOT want to practice failing, but I don’t have the time to practice with job interviews. So, what can I do in the meantime to practice failure in a way that is beneficial? I was thinking of beginning with my credit cards and trying to negotiate better terms (which is primarily useful during this time of year), but if I do fail, the follow-up that brings positive rewards is missing – if I keep calling the company and trying to negotiate, they are likely to see my hassling as grounds for cancellation. I will still probably try this, but I am unsure if the risk is worth the reward.

For any ideas about how you or I can practice failure in this time, or if you simply have an opinion to express, feel free to drop me an email at In the meantime, try to use this to your own advantage and see where you end up.

~ by MichaelStaudenmeir on December 2, 2010.

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