The Lessons of 2020 and Why I’ll Be Embracing Failure in 2021
Marja Verbon (Economics & Management, 2008)
Whichever way you look at it, 2020 was a tough year. We had to overcome difficulties and challenges we never thought we would, or maybe even could, face. The impact of COVID-19, whether physical, mental, financial or professional, shaped the narrative of the year as we were forced to adjust to this “new normal”.
As a business owner operating at a million miles per hour at the best of times, let alone during chaotic periods like 2020, it’s often hard to find time to reflect. But, as 2020 came to a close, and with planning for 2021 well underway, I found the time to pause and consider what I have learnt from the last year, despite all its challenges.
Because while it is true to say it was one of the hardest years of my life as a founder, to echo the popular sentiment that it was a year to forget is to ignore all the things we learn through adversity. And while it’s also certainly true to say 2020 did not go the way I expected or hoped, it taught me so much about myself and my business that I know I can use going forward into 2021.
One of the biggest and most important things 2020 taught me was that it’s ok to fail.
Fail a marketing campaign, fail at setting up a new system, fail a new company or idea even! With COVID, I have simply had to become comfortable with failure because it was so inevitable. If anything, before 2020 and COVID, the fear of failure sometimes drove me to overthink things, seeking perfection often at the expense of progress and development.
But through embracing the possibility of failure, I have been able to be a lot more productive as a professional, business leader, and team member in our company. Instead of worrying about making something perfect, we got things out quicker, even if there was a chance they’d fail. We released many more features, more marketing campaigns, and learned and iterated faster. And it was the learning that proved an invaluable asset during times of uncertainty that I previously may have overlooked.
A similar story has played out in my personal life too – I’ve started new hobbies and worked on new ideas without worrying about success. In a sense, it’s been liberating, empowering me to do, discover, or fail at things I may never have tried before.
So, as the haziness of January wears off and 2021 gets underway – embrace failure.
Accept that it is a key part of life. And what’s more, it’s something you can learn from. When you learn to ski or ride a bike or develop any new skill, you first have to learn to fail. As kids, we are so good at this, but once we grow up, it’s so easy to unlearn our ability to fail. Take this wisdom into your day to day work, your business leadership, or your team management skills, and people will be given the space and freedom to fail, and with it to succeed.
Celebrate that you try, not that you succeed – if you hold yourself accountable for the effort and quality you put into your work, and not the output, you will always have something to celebrate and to learn. Not every success or failure is in your hands, and COVID has been the perfect learning opportunity for this – even the best businesses struggled! Turn this into a positive, and in 2021 celebrate the effort, not the success.
And continuing in the spirit of trying, don’t put things off.
Whatever your plans, objectives, or goals may be for 2021, focus on the future and start creating it now. Time will fly by (it always does) and before you know it you’ll wish you’d started with making your plans & preparations for new adventures in January! By focusing on the things you can control, you can bring focus to your day and build plans to look forward to – creating a fresh start for yourself.
A new year always brings with it new challenges, obstacles, and hurdles to overcome, and 2021 is no different. But this year, instead of trying to navigate around them, I’ll be embracing them head-on, ready to fail at some of them but excited to learn from all of them. And who knows – becoming comfortable with some of these failings may lead to great success. Bring on 2021!
Marja Verbon is the founder of Jump – a job recommendation platform that helps job-seekers navigate the confusing job market and get the right job recommendations based on their experience and ambitions, and in turn, helps businesses attract the right talent for them.
Prior to setting up Jump, she worked in Venture Capital investing in Series A & B marketplaces, and at McKinsey & Company, focused on strategy and operations. She has an MSc in Sociology and a BA in Economics from the University of Oxford.