Leaving Work Behind

How to Keep Showing Up Even After You Fail

Written by Anne Dorko on January 10, 2017. 4 Comments

10A soldier going under barbed wire.Failure is a scary word. It’s easy to be optimistic upfront, telling ourselves that whatever we’re doing is a great learning opportunity. However, once failure inevitably hits, it hurts much worse than we imagined. Moving forward doesn’t sound quite as nice as forgetting disappointment ever happened, and jumping ship.

Unfortunately, some level of failure is inevitable anytime you try to achieve something. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are, how talented you are, or what a great person you are. To succeed, you’ll need to push through the temptation of quitting, and simply keep showing up.

It is a simple enough plan, but that doesn’t make it easy. In this piece, I’d like to offer you three common situations that make you feel like quitting, then show you how to get through them.

Situation 1: Forgetting a Deadline

When you leave work behind, one of the hardest skills to learn is time management. Even creative techniques or motivating to-do lists can’t always prevent a missed deadline. Sometimes, things get lost in the mix.

Personally, I struggle with time perception and often have panic over deadlines. I might as well be the absent-minded professor himself some days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed my own wedding when the day comes! Whether it’s writing or design work, I’ll sometimes forget to update a deadline in my calendar, or get permanently distracted from my not-yet-finished work by an unexpected event.

For example, early one morning I committed to a same-day turnaround for my web design client. That afternoon, I realized I had also committed to keeping ‘couchsurfers’ in my home only about an hour before they were arriving. I did a mental checklist for my normal work (which I’d completed), but while in bed later on, I realized I’d completely forgotten to complete the last-minute work for my client from the morning!

How to Deal With Missed Deadlines

In this situation, I was awake and sober enough to get back to my desk and deliver on my work before bed. Unfortunately, I am not always so lucky – sometimes I have a few drinks too many, or do not have the tools I need to complete the task.

To deal with this, firstly remember that everyone makes mistakes – likely more often than you realize. Even if you think you mess up frequently, it’s more important to show up and actually do the work nonetheless.

Where possible, own the deadline by reaching out to your client and let them know the situation. If you think you can still get in under the wire, tell them the project is on its way shortly. Next, create a plan to address it immediately. If it’s not a task you can complete right away, be sure to send the client the new schedule in your next update.

In general, apologies are good. However, it’s usually better to apologize while also handing over the completed late project. The crux is: make sure you actually get the work done!

Situation 2: Getting Negative Feedback on a Project

As a creative type who attaches their heart and soul to every piece of work I do, I understand deeply that criticism is hard to take. Accepting it graciously can take all your effort.

Let’s say you’ve delivered a project you’re pretty proud of – or at least one that fits the specifications provided to you. Unfortunately, it turns out your client doesn’t agree and comes back at you with a lot of negative feedback.

A specific story here wouldn’t be doing justice to the varied ways clients can feedback to you. In any case, being told you’ve struck out after thinking you’ve hit a home-run can make you feel pretty low.

How to Get Through Negative Feedback

Every time I find myself in this situation, I remember the most important step is to internalize the truth. Specifically, this means remembering that critical feedback does not define anyone as a person. Rather, it creates an opportunity to improve the quality of your work – if you can figure out how to deal with it, that is.

To do this, consider the feedback itself. Ultimately, you’ll be in charge of deciding which elements are valid, and which apply only to this situation. In fact, if you look to permanently take on the wrong items of feedback, it can even compromise your work. Only you can determine how to process it effectively.

Rather than get into a battle with the client over whether they’re right or wrong, it’s simply best to accept that their needs weren’t met on this occasion. Thanking them, and addressing any concerns appropriately, goes a long way to improve.

Situation 3: Being Rejected for a Job

At least with negative feedback, you actually have the job in question. However, being rejected for a job entirely is another event than can cut you straight to the core.

For example, when I first moved to Austin, I started searching for traditional office jobs as a web developer or designer. I wasn’t accept for any of the positions I applied for, and being rejected hurt – but they ended up playing a vital role in how I got where I am today.

How to Cope With Rejection

Being forced to re-evaluate my strategy and needs led me to the digital nomad lifestyle I am now accustomed to. However, I was only able to make the most of the situation by not letting my previous rejections get me down.

Remember, there are many factors that go into hiring a candidate, and not meeting all of them doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Even if you’re qualified for the position, sometimes the timing is off or you aren’t quite the right fit.

Of course, you’ll never get a job you don’t apply to, although some advocate being more choosy than simply blanket-applying for work. As my mom always said, “Hope for the worst, but plan for the best.”

When it makes sense, I follow up by thanking the person for their time and also asking them for feedback on how to do better next time. Then, I keep applying to more jobs I’m interested in. This process has helped me build connections through networking. These steps ultimately help me land better gigs and build my own freelancing career.


It is difficult to persevere in the face of failure, but often all that’s needed is a bit of persistence. When you’re blazing your own trail, it is inevitable you will hit a few road bumps. This is easier to do when you remember the bigger picture.

Keep in mind these common scenarios and how to handle them, and I wager you’ll do alright:

  1. Follow up and deliver on missed deadlines.
  2. Remember that negative feedback does not define who you are.
  3. Know deep down that rejection isn’t always a bad thing.

What failures are the hardest for you to deal with? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

Image credit: skeeze.

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4 Responses to “How to Keep Showing Up Even After You Fail”

  1. Carrie R
    February 6, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement. No of the most difficult types of failure to deal with is just getting found. If one knows they have a great product or service, and the pieces in place to deliver it, or at least to try, the challenge to a new online start-up is getting found. Sometimes it feels like one is in a deep cave, and climbing out will never happen.

    Your suggestion in being proactive and communicating with clients is a good one. Most reasonable people are willing to allow for a mistake once, but they hope it results in learning so as not to happen again.

    Thanks for the great encouragement.

  2. HomeOfficeGenius Adam
    February 21, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    “Thanking them, and addressing any concerns appropriately, goes a long way to improve.”

    I think this is huge. As you said, what you do with the feedback over the course of your career is really up to you. But the client ultimately cares about what is in front of them right then at that moment. Taking care of that issue and doing so in a professional way, while realizing you need to address the feedback for yourself is huge. I think handling feedback this way makes you much more referable in the long run too.

    • Tom Ewer
      February 22, 2017 at 7:28 pm

      Those are some good points. 🙂 Being proactive about addressing a client’s concerns will reap dividends over the long term.

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