5 Tips for Turning Catholic Professional Mistakes into Career Success

Pandemic or not, work-life as a Catholic professional can be challenging and sometimes we make Catholic professional mistakes with the best of intentions.

We work hard and strive for career success, but we experience setbacks.

Let’s just talk about the pandemic for a second. From one day to the next, basically unannounced, we’ve been thrown into working from home, wearing masks, and some into unemployment. There’s daily news of new cases of transmission, ICU units full, and people dying from the virus can all be pretty depressing.

Let’s talk about our personal situations with Catholic professional mistakes.  Some of us have moved from stale office jobs to home office slobs (e.g. wearing basketball shorts to a work meeting).  A lot of us chased our passion to do good and started freelancing. We started to build our small businesses. We’re reminded of inspiring reasons for our work from St. Joseph. But we realize it isn’t always easy – you have a massive project delay, you lose a client, you missed an important meeting, and lose a deal…

As  Catholic Professionals, we are neither immune to Covid-19 nor to setbacks, mistakes, and failures, perhaps even experiencing depression, while having to put on our best face and client service smile.

The good news: we’ve all been through big-time setbacks. Failure can reveal our limits and lead us to creativity and new solutions. We’ve got to deal with mistakes and failure just like the way we learned to walk and talk.

And often God shows us His plan by letting us find out what doesn’t work.

How a Catholic Professional Looks at Failure Differently

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines failure as a lack of success, a falling short, a state of inability to perform a normal function.

I’d like to believe there’s a Catholic definition of failure different from this one. Alas, there isn’t. There’s just more to it.

As Catholics, failure can take on also a spiritual sense. It is an invitation to discernment, greater trust in God, less self-reliance, stronger hope in spiritual realities. It’s a necessary part of the path of detachment from selfishness.

Why is Failure so Disappointing?

Because we usually measure our self-worth by what we accomplish and what others think of us – by our degree of perceived career success.

Pope St. John Paul II could hardly “manage” the last 5 years of his life. But he was not less effective because of it. He showed us that our self-worth does not flow from our work. Although we usually like people when they do something for us, or when they “do us good,” as we tend to say. Our self-worth actually flows from simple existence. Just because we are, we have incredible value. JP2 called this value our “lovability.” We are the image of a God who is love.

What Happens When We Experience Failure?

We feel different things. That we are worthless. We feel other people judge and condemn us. That others are better than us. That we can’t accomplish anything. Perhaps that everyone else is to blame, or I alone am to blame.

Neither success nor failure changes our self-worth as human beings. We often forget that. We should never question our self-worth. Mistakes are simply the gateway to new discoveries, and the path to career success is paved with lessons learned.

5 Tips to Learn from Catholic Professional Mistakes 

Making Catholic professional mistakes is something we can’t change. But we can become more humble, more grateful, more generous, and more trusting. Here are five steps to take advantage of setbacks:

1. Admit the mistake and accept the facts

For most people, it is very painful to look closely at their failures and setbacks and to admit mistakes. Therefore, we tend to delay it. We tend to feel victimized, blame other people, or quarrel with fate. But if we delay and deny, we can’t learn from our mistakes nor correct them. Therefore, the first step is to admit to ourselves failure, mistake, and setback.

Permanent self-pity blocks us from analyzing the situation, learning, and becoming active again. People around us will withdraw from us or become aggressive towards us if we always complain about our misery. Other people also make mistakes and experience loss. Therefore, accept that bad things happen to good people (like us) from time to time.

2. Allow feelings of fear, anger, and disappointment to arise

Whenever our expectations are not met, negative feelings such as fear, anger, sadness, disappointment, and guilt spread within us. We can’t avoid these feelings. We should give ourselves permission to feel them for a time. It’s ok to let the inner movements find a way out. Not at the expense of others and loved ones. But crying, exercising, keeping a diary, and talking about it can help us calm down and face it.

3. Talk with someone / Confession (if needed)

Feelings of guilt are natural. They urge us to seek out the merciful love of our Heavenly Father. If we are not guilty of something “confess-able”, a spiritual conversation helps to better discern God’s intentions and work through the feelings. “Why did He allow this to happen?” If everything works for good for those who love Him (Rom 8:28), what can we learn from this?

If you did something wrong, confession frees our souls from endless self-pity and self-contemplation. Through confession, we confess our sins and the guilt we feel. The Lord fills our souls with light and grace. To do this, we need to reflect on and describe what we have done.

4. Analyze the course of events. Look for the lesson!

We need to analyze the situation objectively. This helps us extract an objective lesson. We need to find out how the mistake occurred. Helpful questions include:

  • What was my contribution to the failure/setback? What are my weaknesses, objectively speaking? (Here I might ask my spouse for advice – she usually sees them pretty clearly.) Write them down!
  • What factors beyond my control played a part in it? Observing outside influences separately is important because we can only change ourselves. Other people, the environment, economic developments, natural events, etc. we cannot control (and often can’t foresee).
  • Ask yourself, as mentioned above: What does God want to tell me with this? What can I do better in the future? He certainly does not want to tell you that you are worthless. That is not His voice. Everything works for the good (again, Rom 8:28). So, I should pursue a different goal, or set a different expectation for myself, or invest in continued education to improve my skills.
  • Finally, what innocent trait characterizes my mistake or weakness that could help other people? For example high sensitivity; “workaholic-ism” (or just plain ole’ hard work); easy-going-ness (or calm temperament); superficiality (or joyful disposition). Jot down a few ways to harness this trait for doing good. This could become the hidden blessing for career success.

5. Direct your gaze to your strengths

A failure first takes up all our power of thought. We can only think about this event. This makes us feel bad and inferior. To strengthen our self-confidence and to build up new energy again, we must consciously direct our gaze to our positive attributes.

So, answer the following questions: Where have I experienced career success in the past? What strengths, positive qualities, and abilities do I have? Write down the qualities and successes and read them over and over again. (Here, I ask my spouse for input as well.)

Then, set some guidelines for future actions. What opportunities do I have now? What new goals do I want to set for myself?

A Career Mistake is a Better Teacher than Success

How we deal with setbacks and Catholic professional mistakes has a major impact on our personal and professional development. If we resign to circumstance, if we start to doubt ourselves and our abilities because of failures, then we block the chance to learn from our mistakes. If you feel depression, and it reaches deeper than some recent setback, you may want to seek some professional help. You can find inspiration on dealing with depression in the lives of many saints who experienced it but also learned to serve God more faithfully with it, too. Career success is not something given. It is hard-earned and forged through many mistakes.

A person would never get around to doing anything if he always waited until he could do it so well that no one could detect a mistake – St. John Henry Newman.

Important to remember: If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn. If you don’t learn, you don’t change. If you don’t change, you don’t grow.




About the Author:

Bill Webster is a Business Development advisor for small businesses, as well as a Fundraising Consultant for impactful non-profits. As a father of two, he spends free time teaching them the things he loves: the Catholic Faith, languages, and tennis. With a BA in Philosophy, minor in Ethics, he is interested in helping businesses and non-profits set themselves up for impact: to change the lives of the people they serve, and thus make Christ’s Kingdom more present.


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