Why failure is so important to career success

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Failure is not a dirty word. Yet for too many professionals, it’s seen as something that should never happen to you – and if it does, you should be ashamed of it.

Well, that’s wrong, according to Naama Bloom, the founder and CEO of HelloFlo, a period products startup. (You’ve probably seen their viral marketing videos.)

“Every successful person that you know has failed their way into where they are,” Bloom said in her keynote Saturday at The Lady Project Summit in Providence, Rhode Island. “And they’re failing every day and dealing with it, which is getting them where they need to go.”

The summit is an annual gathering drawing more than 250 professional women across industries ranging from technology, media, health and academia. It is hosted by The Lady Project, a Providence-based nonprofit that offers a networking community for women.

The reality of success

To many young professionals — women and men alike — the focus is too often on the successes.

When looking at leaders like Bloom, a successful startup founder with a Cornell MBA and years of prior experience at American Express, and society just sees the wins.

But the reality is different, she noted.

“My life feels like a constant stream of rejection and failure,” she said. “I spend a lot of time during my day figuring out how to fail less.”

Bloom compared the pain of learning from failure to walking barefoot without calluses.

“If you’re trying to do something big,” she said, “you need to build up that layer [of thick skin]…you’ll bounce back quicker.”

Fellow keynote speaker Jennifer Romolini also discussed her professional and personal struggles in surprisingly frank fashion.

“I went on 23 interviews before I landed my first job in New York publishing,” said Romolini, who is now the editor-in-chief of Hello Giggles, a positive website for women.

But Romolini persisted — she kept working, kept making connections, and kept looking for yeses instead of nos. She said she would look up job descriptions for positions she wanted, note her qualifications that matched, and work on what she was missing.

Eventually, she worked her way to Lucky magazine, where she served as deputy editor. From there, she moved to Yahoo! before landing her “dream job” at Hello Giggles.

“I was told time and time again it wouldn’t happen for me,” she said, explaining that she’d spent the bulk of her 20s waitressing. “I didn’t get my first real job until I was almost 29.”

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