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To be successful, accept the possibility of failure

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories here.

As the CEO of Global Professionals Practicum, I've observed that the number one characteristic that holds someone back from building a successful network (and career) is a fear of failure.

Over the past year, I've worked with some incredibly brilliant, talented individuals who are afraid. Afraid to reach out to a stranger to ask for advice because they might experience rejection or take risks in their careers because they might fail.

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To be perfectly honest, there are times when I feel afraid too; I think no matter how successful you are, there are times when you'll feel like you're back at square one, days when you feel disappointed by the outcome, frustrated by the situation or afraid that you might fail.

It's okay to be afraid to fail. What matters is that you don't allow it to stop you from moving forward.

Whenever I'm feeling afraid of failure, I remind myself that I'm more afraid of the opportunities I'll miss because I didn't try than the possibility of failure. In the very worst case scenario, you'll build resilience. The other person may not always help/respond or the opportunity may not work out, but it won't have any adverse effects either. You're no worse off for trying, and you now have more experience that will help you build perseverance.

As a society, we don't like to talk about our failures. We have an inherent social bias to only share positive aspects of our lives. I'm willing to bet that your Facebook feed has plenty of vacation photos or announcements about a new job, but very few posts about someone failing to get a job interview or breaking up with their partner.

However, anything that is worth pursuing in life has some risk of failure. We all experience failure at some point in our lives unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.

You should never, ever be embarrassed that you have failed. You'll never know how much you can achieve without taking some risks, moving outside of your comfort zone, learning from new experiences or challenging yourself to grow. There will be failure along the way. But failure is an essential part of the journey to success.

While failure is essential to success, facing failure isn't easy. So here are the three things that I have found helpful when facing failure:

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  • Remember that failure does not define your ability to succeed: I often hear people who fail say I am a failure. It is important to distinguish between being a failure and having experienced failure. If you believe that you are a failure, that failure is now a part of your identity, then it will become a self- fulfilling prophecy. But if you believe that you are a person who experiencing failure (a temporary setback that you can overcome), then you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep pursuing your goals.
  • Focus on the work: When you face failure, it’s easy to focus on how you feel - disappointed, rejected, or upset. Instead, I urge you to focus on your work. There is always something that can be learned from your experience, and there are always other options to pursue. In other words, there is nearly always something that you can do.
  • Build a network to support you: Find people who believe in you and are willing to support you in your journey. Never be afraid to ask for help; you never know who your next mentor, investor or partner might be. Don’t be shy, because you never know when you’ll meet the person who could change your life.

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this, it is that experiencing failure does not mean you are any less capable of being successful. In fact, it's important for you to understand that your experience facing failure is actually the key to your success.

When you learn to embrace failure, it can be a fantastic teacher. Those of you who have experienced failure have already developed the perseverance and resistance to adversity that you need to keep moving forward.

So I want you all to go out there. Make mistakes. Take risks. Get messy. Talk about your failures. And please, know that you aren't alone in experiencing failure and that it should never stop you from achieving your dreams.

Jessica Lui is CEO of Global Professionals Practicum (GPP), a professional coaching firm.

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