Is Failure Actually Real?

Is failure real? Is it a mindset? Maybe it's an inevitable step on our journeys? Either way, it's important to discuss our relationship with it. I use the word occasionally, but I personally don't believe in it (at least anymore).

Failure used to have the ability to significantly wound my self-confidence for long periods of time. When something, like a job opportunity, didn't happen the way I had planned, I would criticize myself. I'd feel like I did something wrong or I didn't deserve the role. I felt like there would never be another opportunity like that again; nothing would ever compare! I'd beat myself up. What's worse, the voice in my head was so focused around what people would think of me? I would be so embarrassed to tell them it didn't work out. 

Now, some questioning of "how can I do better?" after a disappointment is productive for self-improvement, but repeatedly wounding your self-esteem is not a good pattern to be in. It can also be a sign that you may not be on the right path for you and that you may be neglecting your gut instinct. 

Over time, I've learned how to live my life in alignment with my gut instinct. By doing this, I try to do what feels right in a moment and have faith that when something doesn't work out as planned, it happens for a reason and will lead me to something new and better. I no longer look at a setback as a failure - sure, it can be disappointing, but it doesn't feel as heavy as a failure used to.

Here's an example to illustrate:

The November before I left corporate America, I was teaching training in India. I wasn't sure when I'd be leaving my job, but the clarity I got there made me think it was coming soon. I started to realize how much I loved teaching, training, meeting new people from allover the world, listening to their stories, asking good questions and helping people overcome challenges. This clarity drove me to start writing my application for University of Chicago's Master's in Social Work program (while still in India). I thought that might be a really good way to transition into a new career that would satisfy the things I loved doing.

I worked really hard on my essay, and poured my heart into it. I had a number of my friends edit it and provide me feedback; I was really proud of the finished product. I met the admission team, sat in on a class, talked to many alumni about the program and started thinking through how I could commute to Hyde Park from the north side of Chicago each day (this would involve 2 trains and 1 hour+ of travel without a car).

By the end of January, I had applied to three social work programs. February 1st, I quit my job. And by the end of March, I had received 3 skinny envelopes... rejection letters.

I was disappointed for sure. I questioned what I would do? What was my plan B? I didn't have a job lined up. Would I apply again? I took a deep breath (actually a lot of them): I reminded myself that quitting my job was about creating a new, meaningful career that I loved and maybe this just wasn't the right path for me. Maybe if I dug deeper and got a little more creative, I would find something that would be an even better fit.

Or, I could look at my three grad school rejections as failures, feel stuck, and say it was stupid to quit my 6-figure, stable finance career. What was I thinking? I should go back.

Thank goodness I chose to dig deeper and ignore the imposter syndrome. The setback made me get more creative and ultimately brought me to coaching, where I've been able to create the career I want!

It turns out that whether or not you believe in failures, we all experience setbacks. It's how we recover from those setbacks that define our success. If you're having trouble recovering from setbacks, or feeling like there have been very few victories in your life lately, then please reach out for a clarity session - you may be on the wrong path and a quick conversation could give you the tools you need to get back on track or start a new one! xoxox

Liz TrainesComment