Failing Forward: How to Use Your Setbacks as Stepping Stones to Succeed in Tech and BeyondFeatured

Have you ever felt like a fraud in your career, despite all your accomplishments? Have you caught yourself thinking you are unworthy of success or been plagued by the fear of failure?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you are not alone.

Imposter syndrome and the fear of failure are common experiences, especially among women in tech. These feelings can be overwhelming and debilitating, but the good news is that there are steps we can take to overcome them.

In this blog post, we will explore practical strategies for dealing with imposter syndrome and the fear of failure, by drawing on personal experiences and insights from experts in the field. Whether you are just starting in your career or are a seasoned professional, these tips aim to help you to build confidence, embrace challenges, and achieve success in your professional and personal life.

In my opinion, the best way to overcome a problem is first to acknowledge it exists. Let’s take a moment to identify which of the following categories describes you better.

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I, personally used to identify myself with more than one of these categories. It is crazy thinking how many barriers we set in our own way to success, isn’t it? And it is not only about feeling like a fraud but also the fear of failure. The anxiety that everything will end up in a disaster with everyone finding out the “truth” that you are an imposter. That their judgment of putting you into this project or job was ultimately wrong.

But the question is, how realistic is this perception really? What facts do you base it on? Is it really facts or rather that little voice in your head telling you repeatedly that you are not good enough or unworthy?

Believe me, you are not alone and, luckily there is a way out of it! Here is some practical advice that helped me and might help you too.

  1. Reframe your perspective.
  2. Set achievable goals and seek out opportunities for growth and learning.
  3. Practice self-care and prioritize your mental health.
  4. Surround yourself with people that can provide guidance and support.

Easier said than done. I know. Let’s break them down.

1. Reframe your perspective

Rejection is inevitable. Failure as well. The most recent example from my career is when I graduated with my master’s and found myself being unemployed. Job seeking is hard. Add to that tech layoffs, an upcoming(?) recession, and a fresh graduate (me) with a marketing background that wanted to transition into product management.

My initial confidence collapsed when I started getting rejected, interview after interview. Someone was always a better fit. The good thing is that despite being rejected I knew what I wanted. And I kept repeating to myself that this situation was temporary and that I will ultimately make it. It does look bad but, how can we reframe it? How can rejection be viewed as an opportunity? What is it that I can do better?

After taking product management courses, changing my job search strategy, and working on highlighting my relevant experience things began to change. I taught myself to view failure as an opportunity for growth. So, what happened? I gradually gained more self-confidence. My interviewees started seeing me differently, too. Why? Because I believed more in myself. I could present myself more clearly. And the most important? I changed my perspective from “I will become a product manager” to “I am a product manager”. And trust me, this minor shift in mindset gave me the strength and confidence I needed to land my current job.

2. Set achievable goals and seek out opportunities for growth and learning.

Maybe you have heard the phrase “No one climbed Mount Everest in one day”. What does this mean? That the key to success is consistency. If my experiences taught me one thing, then it is that being perfect is a myth and it’s important to be curious, ask questions, and seek out new challenges to grow.

Two months into unemployment I took a three-month job as a project manager. Was it what I wanted? No. Then why did I do it? Because I saw it as an opportunity to reframe the situation in my favor and use it as a stepping stone to becoming a great product manager. These three months taught me how to be a better leader, and how to empower people to be successful against all odds. This was quite an unexpected positive outcome, to be honest.

So, the main takeaway here is to embrace new challenges and use them as opportunities to grow. Apart from learning, I hope this will also help you stay motivated and engaged with your career. Maybe I am wrong but in my view, success is a journey, not a destination. Set and reflect on your goals but try to break them down into small, achievable steps. As long as you can see the next step, you'll be on the path to success.

3. Practice self-care and prioritize your mental health

To succeed in all aspects of our lives, I think is vital to practice self-compassion. Reflecting on my journey, I had a breakthrough moment about a year ago, when writing my master’s thesis. I realized that I was being too harsh on myself and setting unrealistic goals. This led me to conduct some research.

I learned about the importance of self-compassion through reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching TED talks. As a result, I experienced huge progress in the way I view both myself and the world. Of course, this will always be a work in progress but some key practices for self-compassion include saying encouraging phrases to ourselves, practicing mindfulness, and acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes, including me.

So my quick tip here would be to devote a few minutes each day to reflect on your accomplishments and celebrate the small wins.

4. Surround yourself with people that can provide guidance and support

Finally, the people in our lives are seeds contributing to our growth. Are you surrounded by people that complain all the time? Or that look for problems instead of solutions? Or are people in your environment telling you “You can do this! I believe in you”?

Supportive people can help us go places, just by being there. It can be friends, it can be family, co-workers, or a mentor we are a great fit with.

What was life-changing for me was the latter. A colleague that was working with me on my thesis later offered to continue working with me and he turned out to be my mentor, my coach, and my friend. His continuous support and confidence in me, as well as providing me with a different perspective on situations continuously helps me remember who I am when I tend to forget. Although I learned to be reflective of my behavior, we all find ourselves in a situation where we need people that know us well and care about us to remind us who we are and what we are capable of. And I couldn’t be more grateful for him being one of these people for me.

Wrapping it up

Imposter syndrome and the fear of failure are more common experiences than someone might think, but they do not have to hold us back from pursuing our dreams. There are, as mentioned above, different ways to learn to manage these challenges and build the confidence and resilience you need to succeed.

Remember that everyone makes mistakes and experiences setbacks, but it is how we respond to these challenges that ultimately determines our success. So my advice to you is, next time you feel like you don’t deserve your success reflect on your thoughts and challenge these perceptions of yourself. Learning from our own failures is the key to embracing our mistakes and building our path to success!

If you would like to learn more about this topic here are some additional resources:

  1. "The Imposter Syndrome: An Expert Panel" by the American Psychological Association:
  2. "The Art of Overcoming Imposter Syndrome" by Nilofer Merchant:
  3. "Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid" by Guy Winch:
  4. "The Power of Vulnerability" by Brené Brown:
  5. "Overcoming Imposter Syndrome" by Dr. Valerie Young:
I truly needed this. Thank you so much. I have made notes. I have been reassured. I feel renewed and filled with gratitude as I navigate my own failures and rejections.