Stone Fox Bride founder Molly Guy hated her first job out of grad school. “It was so stifling and corporate and I just felt like something was really wrong with me,” says Guy, one of Fast Company‘s Most Creative People in Business. “My parents were really proud of me. I had a job, I had a great salary with benefits, and I was so terribly unhappy.”
Looking back, she wished someone would have told her about the rewards of failure. That job she hated so much (which she did not want to name on the record), led to her current business, a bridal wear brand for the Coachella-going millennial. “My whole business rests on that I couldn’t get a job and I thought my career was over,” she said. “I tried to wrest what little hope I had for myself in a little store. That was only because I was so unhappy.” Of course, at the time she didn’t know that her unhappiness would manifest into the indie-bridal boutique of the moment. Maybe if she had known she wouldn’t have fallen into such a funk.
A little too late, Guy found a resource she now recommends for anyone in the early stages of their career: Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting It Wrong. Feelings of failure, unhappiness, and confusion are especially likely early on in one’s career. Twenty-two year olds fresh out of the college bubble know close to nothing about anything. And, as Guy points out, there are no tutorials on how to go to work in between philosophy and writing classes. So of course you’re going to mess up, and being bad at something doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.
The book features all-stars like MediaBistro founder Laurel Touby and Jezebel founding editor Anna Holmes, who discuss what they learned from their biggest failures. Touby talks about learning, the hard way, to have a “work appropriate” personality, for example.
Many icons of success point to their failures as key to their trajectory, or at least a necessary component of it. “My mother used to tell me, ‘failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success,'” Arianna Huffington told Fast Company earlier this year. “So at some point, I learned not to dread failure. I strongly believe that we are not put on this Earth just to accumulate victories and trophies and avoid failures; but rather to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are.”
Having a new attitude about mistakes will not only help you get through the most horrible jobs, but it can make you a better worker. “Several studies show that when we practice a new way of approaching failure, it can change an error from something we fear into something we embrace,” Kristin Neff, PhD, associate professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin said. When people give themselves breaks they tend to do better next time. “The result is that you make the mistake work for you,” Neff added.
“Everything is about ascension, no one talks about–just, like, there’s so many rewards in failure, in inertia,” Guy added. Mistakes I Made at Work not only shines an antiseptic light on other people’s dark moments, it shows how mistakes, and unhappiness, and the depths of our careers can lead to unexpected triumphs.