When a Project Fails

The end of the year is a good time to look back and take stock of your life and work. How did things go? What projects were successful? Were there any big disappointments? Often the best learning comes from the hard times. Digging into them is a bold move toward future growth.

Mindset Check: Fixed or Growth

Before going too deep into a failed project, first check your perspective. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck writes about two kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth.

In a fixed mindset we think that there is a limited amount of potential, and a challenge is a test of how good (or smart or talented) we are. This creates an urgency to prove ourselves. In this mindset, if a project fails, we see ourselves as a failure, which can prevent us from learning and growing.

But in a growth mindset we think that there is always room for discovery and improvement. A challenge is an opportunity to learn new things. This creates openness, and keeps us flexible. In this mindset, if a project fails, we see it as a disappointment but also a chance to see where new skills can be developed.

Crash and Burn. Now What?

As I looked over the past year, I reflected on a client project that crashed and burned. It started with promise and hope, but in the end the client decided to go a different direction and hired someone else. I could tell it was a disappointment to them also.

After the initial disappointment, I engaged the growth mindset and looked for the learning opportunities. I saw ways I could help improve communication by setting clearer expectations, asking better questions, and listening more intentionally. I’m bringing those lessons into the way I interact with clients from now on.


I’m grateful for these bad situations. They not only make me stronger, they also help give me clarity on my strengths and weaknesses. They challenge me to make good decisions, and they make me a better leader.

Go Digging

How about you? Did this year bring any painful projects for you? What can you discover by reflecting on them, and how can your skills improve to meet similar challenges in the future?

More on Mindset

I first learned about the power of mindset from Mike Boyes on episode #1 of WorkWise, a podcast we started recently. Listen to the podcast and I think you’ll learn some ways to thrive in your work this year.

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