I remember the day it happened. “Laura, we see you as a shining star in the company,” said the Executive-Who-Shall- Not-Be-Named, “but when we see you in the future…”
I nodded eagerly, waiting to hear about my upcoming promotion.
“We don’t see you here in the company,” Unnamed Executive finished.
That’s right, I’d walked into a meeting thinking I was getting a promotion, only to be fired.
Okay, technically I was laid off, but you get the point.
Fired. Zilch. Zero. Done. Gonzo. FAILED.
In that brief second—when the stunning reality of not reaching the next level, next step, or next part of the dream happens—what do you do?
Well, if you’re me, you call your sister (who happens to be a psychologist) and a few hours later find yourself crying into your glass at a mental health happy hour surrounded by a pool of your sister’s colleagues, who all encourage you that this moment will be a turning point. And yes, please, pass the gin.
I was loathe to agree with them.
But they were right.
Our society does not like to talk about failure. Plain and simple. We don’t. When I had my first brush with real-life-adult failure (and I say first because, boy, I’ve had a couple good ones since then), it left me reeling for quite a while.
This month’s topic on the Lady Project Blog is: Success.
But I ask you: Can we truly know success without first knowing failure? Let’s take a moment to look at the word, failure. According to Webster’s Dictionary, it’s:
Well, isn’t that just a kick in the pants?
Notice 2a: “lack of success” Ugh.
Okay, let’s look at the definition of success:
Wow, a lot less words used to define this. It seems clear cut: getting or achieving a desired or favorable outcome.
We have expectations, goals, roadmaps, business plans, life lists, bucket lists, dream boxes, and pins… And the result when one of those does not happen?
Failure feels bad. We humans don’t like to feel bad; in fact, we run from it. Seth Godin, Dr. Rick Hanson, and a whole host of other experts say as much. Buddhists call it our monkey brain and scientists call it the amygdala – this tiny original part of our brain that has not really evolved. It helped early humans avoid pain, run from fear, and essentially outlast predators. Great for then, but not for now. This tiny piece of our brain can overrun us with fear of failure. If we give in to this, we don’t grow from failure; in fact, we cripple ourselves in anticipation of failure and wallow in our suffering when we experience it.
Knowing we have this tendency to avoid pain, how can we look at failure differently?
More and more successful people have weighed in on the topic. Gary Vaynerchuk just wrote The Importance of Failure on Inc.com, where he says, “Failure can teach you a tremendous amount.”
J.K. Rowling gave a speech at Harvard about the benefits of failure in 2008, saying, “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.”
Tavis Smiley’s recent book, My Journey with Maya, notes his grappling with failure while being mentored by Maya Angelou who said to him, “Baby, we find our path by walking it.”
From my personal experience at walking and failing, and from far greater minds than mine, I’d like to share a shortlist we’ll call Embrace the Suck – Failure’s Do’s, Don’ts, & Benefits:
- Don’t play the blame game; after a few well-deserved moments of nursing wounds, assess your situation and how you failed. Make a list.
- Do get help. Seek therapy, mentors, networks (hey Lady Project!), and trusted friends to help you view your failure in a positive and productive light.
- Don’t go out of your way and seek to fail, or self-sabotage out of fear and then say you were teaching yourself a life lesson. You’re braver than that.
- It’s not that failure is easy, but you’re free because you realized your greatest fear and that’s where the real work begins.
- Because of said ‘freedom’, in this difficult moment, you can learn about your inner workings: What's your true motivation(s)? What are you really made of? Who can you truly rely upon in your dark hours?
- Do realize your life is more than a to-do list, a stack of qualifications, or an outline of your resume.
- Yes. You will have greater empathy and this is infinitely powerful.
- Remember, failure is a temporary state. That means there is movement upwards in your near future. So embrace the suck. That’s right, I said it.
Because of that terrible moment, I moved out of (slowly, I’ll admit) a career that would not have sustained me for the long term and into new cities (hey, Providence!) and greater opportunities.
In other words, I did not stay failed.
And neither will you.
Laura’s love of wine and hate of fluorescent lighting led her away from a cubicle career. You could say she had a corporate hangover of sorts. Her background in marketing and project management pair well with her passion for wine, beer, and spirits: she’s now a freelance writer and full-time in wine sales. Laura also earned herself an M.A. in Professional and Business Communication from La Salle University and WSET Level 2. When she’s not at a wine-related event, you can find her writing (often about wine) on her site: laurakanzler.com or tweeting @Laura_Kanzler or photographing her #winereplife on Instagram @laurakanz