The F- word and future success

Thought-provoking article on learning from failure from the Director of the Careers Service, Shelagh Green. Picks up on similar comments written by Margaret Harris, editor of Physics World, about physicists failing.

“In physics, failure and success are pretty clear-cut. On physics exams, especially, an answer is usually either right or wrong. Most people who choose to study physics are okay with this (indeed, some find the clarity appealing), but that is partly because they are usually “high fliers”, accustomed to getting top marks. The clear-cut nature of success in physics exams has, basically, reinforced their sense of themselves as successful people.

At some point, though, no matter how much of a high flier you are, you will fail. And as a professional physicist, you will fail pretty much all the time. Your experiments won’t work. Your ideas will go nowhere. Sooner or later, your theories will be disproved by observations. To be a successful physicist, then, you need to do failure well. The playwright Samuel Beckett put it nicely: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.””

The Careers Service Blog

Shelagh Green, our Director, on the f-word that’s not as bad as it sounds.

No, not that one.  I mean fail….I was prompted to think about what it feels like to fail and how we respond to failure, since reading this article .  A leading US entrepreneur credits her success to her dad’s regular question, What did you fail at this week?   It made me realise just how often we do fail: or fail to succeed in the way we imagined.  At times that sense of not achieving or getting the desired outcome, can be hard to take – we focus on the loss from the situation. It takes intentional effort (and possibly time) to spot the gains – What was the learning?  What would I do differently next time? What hadn’t I anticipated? What back-up plans could I have put in place? What have I learned about myself? …

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