Success in fields ranging from soccer to bass playing comes just as much from perseverance (which is largely about rebounding after taking hits) as from natural-born talent. Managers who let their employees risk failure bring out more creativity in them than bosses who harp on workers' missteps. And what separates men lacking in self-esteem from those who feel pretty good about themselves is the way they handle failure.

You didn't make the quarterly numbers

The flip side: "Biting off more than you can chew shows ambition," says Ben Dattner, Ph.D., a Manhattan-based psychologist who specializes in workplace issues. One screwup won't mar your career. In fact, many employers recruit people who reached high and flopped. "If a person is too safe and conservative, he's not likely to come up with great ideas," says Dattner.

Your next move: Analyze what happened. "Pick your failure apart as if you were a commentator at a golf tournament," says Frank Pittman, M.D., a psychiatrist in Atlanta. Then tell your boss what you could have done better. Your company may benefit. A Harvard Business School analysis found that some of the best medical teams have the most errors on record. Reporting mistakes is key to success.

You were fired

The flip side: You may have been hanging on to a job you didn't like out of pride or fear. Having the decision made for you can be freeing. "Being fired teaches you that your workplace doesn't define you as much as you thought it did," says Dattner.

Your next move: Plan your spin. Think about how you'll tell the story when you're hunting for a new gig. "Don't be too blasé, too self-blaming, or too defensive," says Dattner. Offer a balanced explanation, like, "My expectations about my previous job were off, and I also lacked some of the resources I needed." Show that you learned something and you're able to see a situation from a different perspective.

The woman you were chatting up brushed you off

The flip side: You can become better at this. Men who haven't faced rejection have weak mental immune systems, says Barry Lubetkin, Ph.D., the clinical director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy in Manhattan. Next time, you'll bounce back more quickly.

Your next move: Change your game. Ask a female friend to watch you in action and then give you an honest critique. (Once, by sending a patient out on a mock date with an intern, Lubetkin found out that the patient unknowingly talked incessantly about himself.) Then force yourself back out there. A 2006 study from Britain's University of Essex found that while good looks and education are important to women, they aren't as influential in their choices as "market opportunities." Just showing up and being in the running can outweigh being rich or tall.