Fierce in the Face of Failure
Failure. While it is a normal part of life, everyone struggles with it. Failure can cripple us with shame, it can destroy our confidence, and it can make us want to quit. The great thing is though, even when you think failure has won, days, weeks, months, or even years later, you can learn you were wrong. How we fail, and what we do with that failure can have a significant impact on our happiness and wellbeing in the long term. I’ve learned that the more I face failure and refuse to let it shatter me, the stronger I become.
When I was young, sometimes I let failure drive me to quit. At the age of seven, after being skipped multiple levels in swimming, I failed level blue twice. After the third time, when I finally passed, I refused to continue. I was done. That failure stayed with me, and in a way, I’ve carried regrets about it into my adulthood; If I had pushed through, maybe I would have been a competitive swimmer. However, now, nearly 30 years later, I compete in triathlons. Failure doesn’t have to be forever.
In my adulthood, I’ve learned to be more driven in the face of failure. When I tore my calf muscle, I learned to swim without using my legs. When I crashed my bike, I fought through my fear, and six weeks later I was back in the saddle, commuting to work. And, most recently, when I lost out on a job opportunity that I truly thought was mine, I took it as a learning experience, and a week later, I ended up with something even better.
Last year, I got a new job on a nine month contract. It felt like a perfect fit for where I was in my career. I built a wonderful relationship with my manager, and I threw myself into the work. The whole team was new, and my manager credited me with doing a huge amount to build our culture. Unfortunately, through no fault of our own, over time, there were challenges that impeded my team from achieving our objectives and our work started to stagnate. During that time, I began looking for other opportunities, given my contract was coming to an end and I didn’t know if I would be staying on after the nine months concluded.
As the end of my contract approached, a formal interview process was held for all the staff on the team. I applied, and on the day of the interview, despite my preparation, I was totally thrown by the questions they asked. They didn’t align with what I knew of the job, nor with how I had prepared. It didn’t go well. At the end of that week, I learned that I wasn’t the successful candidate for the job. I was crushed. Despite the fact that I hadn’t been sure I wanted to stay there, I wanted to leave on my own terms. Instead, I felt rejected; I had failed.
As it happened, my job hunting had paid off, and the following week I had an interview for another position that could be pivotal to my career. When I met with my manager and she told me that I didn’t get the job I currently was holding, I told her about the next interview. She offered to do a practice run with me the following Monday, and gave me detailed feedback on how I could improve my answers.
I went home that night and cried. I gave myself a night to wallow in my failure, to feel the disappointment. I didn’t push it down and pretend it wasn’t there, I had to process it and go through it before I could move forward. The next two days were spent methodically preparing for my next interview, changing my examples to address my manager’s comments, and repeating my narratives until I knew them by heart. I tended to get flustered in interviews, so I knew that for me, recitation was key. A friend of mine who was a manager called me that Sunday to do a practice interview, and gave me further feedback which I integrated.
On Tuesday morning, the day of the interview, I got up early and went for a run. Previously, I had never exercised the morning before an interview, but I found it helped to burn off nervous energy and filled me with endorphins and confidence. The interview went very well. I left feeling like I had done everything I could, and this time, if I failed, it wouldn’t be because I had screwed up, but simply because there had been a better candidate.
A few days later, I got a call from the hiring manager, and she offered me the job. I could not have been more elated. This success felt so much sweeter knowing that a week before, I had failed so dramatically. Not only did I not let that failure stop me, I let it teach me. If I had not had that experience, I would not have received feedback on how to improve my interview narratives; I would not have had people offering to do practice interviews with me. I quite likely would not have the amazing new role that I have now.
You can let failure stop you, or you can let it drive you. Which will you choose?
Thanks to my bestie Lily Spek for the head shot at the end of this post!