Day 136: Failing Forward

“It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case you fail by default.”
– J.K. Rowling

I attended a presentation today about failure that was inspired by Elon Musk’s resume of failures. It was an interactive session that encouraged each of us to discuss our failure resumes, think about the lessons we learned and reflect on how those failures have actually helped contribute to our current success. Surprisingly, this proved to be a very good exercise.

My failure resume includes my entire first year of university, the struggle and constant rejection of finding permanent work after graduation, and even failing my first driving test (the written portion!) because I was too cocky and figured I didn’t need to study. It turns out there were quite a few co-workers who also failed their driving tests!

When I look back and think about my failures, they don’t seem that bad anymore. At the time, I thought the sky was falling and was filled with mixed emotions – sadness, anger, hopelessness, embarrassment. Now, they all seem trivial and I guess it’s because each of those failures taught me important lessons and shaped who I am today.

When I was struggling to find work, I was so depressed that nothing ever seemed to go in my favour but I never stopped trying. There were many days I just wanted to give up but each rejection pushed me to become more resourceful in my search strategies. I also learned that tenacity and perseverance will eventually prevail and as long as I kept the right attitude, I would be able to succeed.

Failing my driving test taught me the importance of preparation and to never assume that I know everything – because I don’t!

My first year of university taught me a great many things but one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned is that I should always be true to myself. Never try to be someone else just to fit in. As Judy Garland said “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”

At the presentation, one of my co-workers shared with us one of his biggest failures that actually turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to him.

Back in 1977, his favourite band was set to perform in our city and the radio announced that tickets were going on sale on a particular day. In those days, you had to camp out in lines well before the tickets go on sale or else you’d be out of luck. So, he went to line up and there was no one else there. He found this quite odd but as there were still hours before the place opened and tickets were to go on sale, he kept waiting. The time ticked away until it was 9:30am and only one other girl had shown up. They were both let in and when he asked to buy his tickets, he was told that he was a day early! As he turned to walk away in despair, that’s when he finally noticed the girl behind him and realized how cute she was. He asked her out and the rest is history! They ended up getting tickets to that concert and have been happily married for many years. 

All of these failures now seem trivial in the grand scheme of things. Some of them, like my co-worker’s story, demonstrate that failure can actually be a blessing. We just need to take a moment and look for the opportunities that are right in front of us which, are being obscured by the negative thoughts and emotions we experience when we fail. It’s good to feel those emotions but not let them prevent us from moving forward. Failing builds character and as painful as it can be, just keep going! Things will always work out in the end.

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