Image by Pretty Jeff
What happens when we fail?
When the promotion we want at work falls through, the best grade in the class does’t happen, the house of your dreams get snatched up off of the market, the paycheck we think we are worth doesn’t get cut, the business we hoped to grow starves, the acceptance to the school we desire doesn’t come, the medal we thought we would win slips out of our hands, the job we think we are accepting isn’t offered?
As it turns out, sometimes we can learn a lot.
Failure. That word doesn’t have a very nice ring to it. Rightly so, I suppose, as the connotations of failure inherently bring displeasure, disappointment, dissatisfaction, even heartache.
No, we don’t often sit around and talk about failure around the dinner table. Failure isn’t generally a casual conversation piece. More often than not we’d rather discuss failure’s antithesis– success.
This is also understandable, as miring oneself in the low that often comes after experiencing the bad news, defeat, or let-down of failure isn’t a very pleasant venture either.
Maybe it’s best for me to be as candid as possible as I write this. In fact, I’ll just come out and say it. I failed. I applied for a job this past month. I felt as though I was a qualified, dynamic, enthusiastic, well-prepared candidate. That I brought not only a strong resume to the table, but also a set of personal qualities that aligned brilliantly with this position.
The precursor to this story is that I had already been passed up for this job a year ago. I felt as though applying again, showing up with eager readiness to interview again, emphasizing my desire to succeed in this position, and then being called back for a second interview meant that I had not only shown I was qualified for this position, I felt that it showed I was sticking my neck out there bravely saying, “Yes! I not only want this job, I am committed to it. Here I am again!!” I thought I would get the job.
So when I heard the voice on the other end of the phone saying, “Well… I have some bad news…” It felt exponentially worse this time around than it did last time! And I even laugh as I write that last sentence because it felt pretty bad to be passed over the first time. Let alone twice.
Now there are reasons for the pass. I also understand that. I am over under-qualified. Have any of you ever been there? But the main takeaway from this interview process is that I am under-qualified. So no one think that I am berating myself too harshly for this, or view this failure as a sign of who I am as a person. Although it really is difficult not to view failure as a personal show-and-tell. Yes, it is simply hard not to take failure personally.
Truth. I failed. Again. Yes, not once, but twice. Nothing about that felt good.
But in the midst of this failure (because I can assure that I am still standing in the middle of it right now), I learned some very important, very valuable, even vital lessons. But let’s not forget the proverbial rubble I am looking around at. Those toppled castles in my head– the way things would have looked if I had gotten the job.
The way we would have negotiated carpool for the boys. The way meal planning and prepping, and execution would have changed. The energy level I’d need to adapt to for full-time work and full-time parenting. The way planning, and prepping, and presenting as part of my new job would have looked every day. I asked myself how certain home duties would be handled, and would we be able to get away for vacation, and how could I best stay connected as a mother and wife while being a full-time worker, and on and on and on…
All of that de-materialized in an instant.
What was I left with?
It was here in the newly open space of my failure that it began to serve me. This is where my failure helped me grow.
1. Your people are your people no matter your success or failure.
I wanted to write about this even during my not-knowing-if-I-got the job phase. Because the support, excitement, well-wishes, championing, enthusiasm, and genuine care for myself and my family were so palpable, so felt, so overwhelming, and so sustaining.
In fact, the day before my second interview I sat in my car outside my four-year-old sons’ preschool and had myself a really good cry. I cried because I felt so vulnerable as a stay-at-home-mom trying to re-enter the work force. I cried because I hated not knowing what the answer would be in a few days time about this job. But mostly, I cried because I was so touched by the love and support of my family and friends.
I cried at the text messages that filled my message inbox sending prayer, good luck, good karma, knock-em-dead, rock-n-roll, and faith in my abilities as a person. I cried because this outpouring had literally, physically uplifted me. I felt as though I could conquer the world, and I hadn’t even made it through the presentation portion of my interview.
I was touched that my mom had driven an hour each way to my house to help me prepare my presentation, that my friends would come over at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night (that’s late for folks with kids, way past bed-time 😉 ) to listen to my presentation and give me feedback and constructive criticism, that my husband had full faith in me, and believed in me no matter the outcome of the next days’ interview.
The gratitude washed over me so STRONGLY, so FULLY, that I was clean from fear. I was ready to face anything, and I swore that I would write about this experience as soon as I got the chance. I was totally overcome by the expressions of pure love from my people, my tribe. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
2. Failure can solidify your strengths.
When I left that second interview, I know that I had given my all, my best effort. I was pleased with what I had offered the panel. Of course, at that time, I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to succeed, that the job wasn’t going to be mine.
But one thing that giving that presentation allowed me was to see that I was ready for the job, even if I wasn’t selected. I was confident in my performance, and I don’t mean confident in an over-inflated or heady way. I knew that I had shown my skill, my abilities, my strength to present real-time.
Without going into greater detail, I found that I had proved to myself that I was prepared to take the job, to do my best, and to fly. I was prepared to succeed. Not only had I shown those strengths to the interview panel, I had shown them to myself.
Herein is the unique lesson that failure afforded me. Rather than showing me that I didn’t have what it takes/took, I found that I possessed exactly what I had come to highlight. I was encouraged and enlightened, and for that, this failure possesses a certain measure of success.
3. Failure can help you to understand your weaknesses.
Not surprisingly, failure also allowed me to see some of my weaknesses. I realized through failing that I have a hard time taking risks. I have known this about myself for some time. I simply didn’t realize how risk averse I was until I was turned down a second time for a job that I felt was perfectly suited to me. I realized then that perhaps I hadn’t put myself out there into the world enough.
I realized that sometimes it is hard for me to think outside of the box, meaning, I had ONE possible outcome for this job– that I would be the person given the job. I’m not saying that it was bad that I didn’t think about being passed up for this employment opportunity as an option. I’ve probably always erred on the side of hopeful optimism, but I definitely put all further thoughts of “what if this doesn’t happen” completely aside. Consequently, I think failing may have felt even harder than I’d anticipated!
On top of that, I hadn’t put together a coherent plan B for myself, and I count that as a weakness. So great, that I see myself as a complete success, almost immune to failure. But that didn’t serve me well at the other end of this process. In the future, I think it best to have a direct alternative, something you can go after in the face of let-down.
4. Through failure– opportunity opens again.
This lesson is one of the most important lessons of all. When we fail, the incredible thing is that we then have the unique chance to view failure as a net negative, or we have the opportunity to see that failure may have closed one door, but many, many other doors have become open to us or remained open to us.
In fact, opportunity is WIDE OPEN in the face of failure. We simply have to step up to the realization that the forward motion may not be in the direction that we originally anticipated. We will have to reexamine our goals, our desires, our hopes, our dreams. That can be a daunting, even heavy challenge. But recognize that you can do hard things.
Going after this job was hard. Interviewing for the job was hard. Mentally writing the story of my success was hard. The reality that I had been passed up again was hard. Looking for future opportunities has been hard, but I am seeing now that I have been given another chance. A chance to ask some questions about what I want. A chance to look for answers to my employment status. In failure, I have experienced opportunity. What more could I ask for?
A job, I guess.
The last thing that I have taken away from my failure is an acute awareness of my blessings, my haves, my privileged situation. I am the luckiest. I have had insulation from this fall merely by the luck of my situation. I am beyond blessed, and for that I am also extremely grateful.