Failure. What an ugly word. It looks different for everyone, but we all go through it at some point in our lives. Yesterday was a tough day, but really, it was only part of a tough three-week period. In the middle of a frustrating episode, I wrote the following status on Facebook. I was surprised by the response, in public comments and private messages, of others who had experienced similar feelings or had tips on overcoming it. I thought I would share here, with some useful feedback that I received as well as some links. Here’s my original post:
A quick thought on failure.
For most of my life, let’s say the first 22 years, I didn’t fail at anything. I topped my class every year in primary school, I did natural sciences in high school and did really well at them and any other subject I tried. Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) were alright too. I enjoyed school, did things I loved and was really good at a number of them. I sang, debated, even played football in university for three years, and my cluster won 2 of those years (I think). I was definitely not the strongest link on the team, but I had endurance on the field, so I played. Whenever I entered student governance elections of any kind, I won.
I went on to university, and in the midst of so many things, I persevered and pulled through well enough. I would enter competitions and win, help train people who would win. I guess I was winning at life in most things.
In effect, I lived all the way up to 25 without knowing major failures. I faced big challenges, but I wouldn’t consider any of the experiences prior to 25 as failures. I didn’t always have expectations of winning, mind you. It’s just that dealing with failure was not something I had experienced often enough. I am learning something valuable now, and have come to appreciate the importance of failing at some things.
Failures can teach grit and perseverance. The people around me who have experienced life-failures before are much agiler than me at springing back from challenges. If we’re all running some type of hurdle race, I am the person who would hit a hurdle, and instead of getting up and finishing strong immediately, I have to stop in the moment to flashback through the whole race, recalculate my angles, and then walk to the end of the line – because either way, I am finishing though.
I am learning some lessons now, and boy, do I wish I had learned them before. I would be even more resilient than I am. Often, I have found myself leaning on the strength of those nearest to me, to be able to ‘bounce back.’ So, I think some failures are good. We should all learn how to fail. If we have learned how to fail, we get back up quickly, eager to try again, and try better. A former CEO once told me that I am brilliant, peaked early in life, but I needed to know how to fail. I get the relevance of her point now.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
– Michael Jordan
(P.S. I am not failing at school. Just facing a few challenging moments, tears, and juggling deadlines here and at home. And hey, I just can’t share only the good points with you.)
Many former graduate students (and some who are on to pursuing their PhDs) have said failure was the most important lesson they learned while in graduate school. Others had experiences from failing in business or at work, and all have said that ultimately the experience was positive. We learn a lot about ourselves from failure, even though in the moment it does not feel good. I have to agree that failure is a part of the journey to success. If you turn the experience into a lesson and accept that you will have to do better and try harder next time, failure will prove to be something really valuable for you.
We are human beings. Many of us are not only managing school and work, but we have families and are called to manage certain previously unforeseen circumstances. These things will happen. How we react to failure is what will make the difference. I also have to learn to not fear failure. It is bound to happen in one area of life, so maybe I ought to just be grateful that it is happening now. I have learned that I am a person who has high expectations of myself and of others. This can lead to major disappointment. However, matching high expectations with maximum effort, while understanding that failure is only a temporary bump in the road, can lead to you being able to shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it off! One important part of overcoming the hurdle of failure is to not quit. I have been very close to quitting. My best friend, however, simply told me we are ‘not about that life.’ In her words, “We struggle, and then we slay.”
Since sharing that post, I have learned that I am not alone. (Hey, fellow grad students!) The response has been positively overwhelming. I questioned myself initially about sharing this, but am grateful that I did because others have been able to chime in and support each other. For all my use of social media, believe me, my deeply personal experiences and issues are rarely ever detailed online. The realness of yesterday’s experience, however, prompted me to share. Anyway, I am happy I shared, grateful for the lessons I have learned from others as they shared with me. Here’s some of the great feedback that I got. Hope they help you too.
“I know exactly what you mean Kemesha. That was the most valuable lesson I learned from graduate school. I had never failed enough in life. I concluded that what it meant was that I had never truly pushed myself beyond my limits and that for all my successes, despite how great everyone else thought it was, I had spent my life living below my potential. I don’t know if that was the right conclusion or not, and for the first time, I experienced first hand what depression was. I spent 2 years fighting my way back. But you know what, I’m able to handle life’s newest challenges because of it – From post graduate studies to family tragedies.
So I have only 1 message: once you face it head on, failure makes you stronger.” – Travis A.
“I get you 100% Kemesha. I think a large part of not wanting to ‘fail’ after so many ‘successes’ hinge on what we think people will think of us. It’s almost as if we are afraid of people rejoicing in our ‘failures’ because they too have watched our successes for years without knowing what we had put in to get there. I too am learning to fail…daily, and I am also learning that it is OK. It makes my heart skip a beat each time I think about it, but day by day I am getting the hang of really not caring what people think.” – Daenia A.
“I have failed all my life…it was called ‘mathematics!’ But aside from that, this story sounds a lot like my life until 25 when I did not get accepted to the 1 international university I wanted to go to. My CorE ( a group of girlfriends) had to rescue me from my room! Me? Not good enough? That was a tough lesson. But as an entrepreneur now I smile at all my failures, re-calculate (look at maths.lol) and like facebook hero I am ‘back at it again!’ – Dania B.
“1. Nothing before it’s time. 2. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. 3. It was your time to fail. 4. You are in a good position to handle it now.” – Melissa K.
“I’m still learning to deal with failure, and I’ve had my fair share. Some that rocked me to the core made me question myself and my achievements. Having negative persons nearby echoing my failures didn’t help. But God, prayer, good friends and family have kept me going. Sometimes, all we can do is push on through. But you will look back and realise that the experience has brought you a new resolve and strength. Keep pushing on.” – Allister H.
“I’m learning now that failure does that speak to my value. I would just have to try again.” – Rasheeda C.
“FAIL = “First Attempt at Learning” though as I am growing I don’t consider them failures anymore. I consider them critical points in life that are required to grow and develop character. I assess how I react in these situations and then recalculate to manoeuvre better or to maintain, the next time I face my learning points. It’s like a sniper taking a shot at a target, he/she has to analyse the trajectory because the wind and every other factor comes into play. Sometimes a sudden wind comes and he/she may miss the shot, but with patience and perseverance, he/she readjusts and looks through that scope to try again. Sometimes they may not get another chance and that is just how life is. It’s Life (such a simple statement but yet so profound).” – Ashley K.
“Of inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that do not work”. For Edison, there was no such thing as failure, only moments of learning. Don’t cry and get forlorn though. Put on some Jamaican music and wiggle till yuh happy again.” – Andrei B.
There are some other tips I got from blogs or articles I read. Gordon Swaby, an outstanding tech entrepreneur, wrote about how his experience of failure in video games taught him valuable lessons about grit and perseverance. He referenced an article about grit which I found extremely useful. “Grit — the ability to continue working toward a goal no matter how hard it gets or how long it takes. It is sheer determination to succeed.” Failure helps build grit. In addition, I found these two great perspectives on how Failure Leads to Success and Learning to Fail Fast and Move Forward with Analytics.
This was a useful reflection for me, and I hope you will find value in the tips that I and others shared. Share it with a friend who may need it, and do add any other tips or comments you have in the comment section below.
My resolve is intact. My faith in unshaken. My confidence in my ability to achieve is sure. I have support in my family, partner and friends. My focus has been renewed, and I will redouble my efforts to manage all things and do better. Remembering my high school motto today: Res Severa Verum Gaudium – Hard work brings true joy.
Remembering my high school motto today: Res Severa Verum Gaudium – Hard work brings true joy.
See you at next post.