Harvard FAS Office of Career Services


When we think of “bouncing back,” we usually of think of sports. But failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. It happens at work. It happens with relationships. What is the relationship between trying, risking, and succeeding? At a recent panel, Tommy Amaker, Jon Dienstag ‘05, and Jessica Gelman ‘97, MBA ‘02, shared their expert tips on how to deal with failure and come back stronger than before:

There’s always a lesson in the loss.

Sometimes your greatest rejection can lead to your best direction. Don’t just walk away from failure, but think about why it happened and how you can use it as ammunition in the future.

Change tactics, but don’t change principles.

Recognize that you might have to change the way you do something in order to get the desired result, but make sure you do not compromise your vision or values.

Your team is important.

You need to be able to have confidence in those on your team. Working together is crucial, and being able to rely on your teammates is often crucial to success. Invest in your team. Stay loyal to them.

Listen to the criticism.

Be open and willing to hear constructive feedback. Listening will help you go beyond that moment of failure in order to be able to move forward. Learn from your mistakes and teach yourself how to improve.

Always think about the next play.

Register your failure, but always be looking forward. Regroup and respond. What’s next on the agenda?

Valleys are necessary for the peaks.

One of the panelists advocated for failure, because failure allows you to grow and make your successes that much better. You won’t be able to enjoy the highs as much—and you won’t know how to bounce back—if you never experience the lows.

Complacency is dangerous.

Even if you’re in a good spot, always strive to be better. Live up to what’s important to you. Keep making goals. As Coach Tommy Amaker advised: “You should always worry ‘Where am I?’ Everyone thought we should win the NCAA tournament this year, but last year nobody thought we could win the second game against New Mexico.” Keep setting the bar higher.


Julia Eger, ’14

"Bouncing Back: Lessons from Athletics on Success, Failure, and Resilience" was sponsored by the Department of Athletics, the Bureau of Study Counsel, and the Office of Career Services, and featured Tommy Amaker,Head Coach of the Harvard Men’s Basketball team; Jon Dienstag ‘05, Senior Manager at the Boston Red Sox; and Jessica Gelman ‘97, MBA ‘02,VP at the New England Patriots.