Embracing failure: Why it’s never as bad as it seems

Like anyone, ever, since forever, I’ve experienced my fair share of failures. In fact, typing this now, I’ve just received my third rejection email from a prospective job, but I’m not losing face from it. I’m keeping it all in perspective and letting some sweet tunes keep me focused. I have a personal story which keeps it all in check for me… so you might want to come back to this because it’s a long read!

Firstly, failure is never a bad thing as long as you don’t allow it to be. We all fail, but as long as you take it as an opportunity for growth, it’s never the end of the world. Personally, I’ve become somewhat numbed to failure because of a few simple facts (and a big life lesson). I’m now 28, still living at home, jobless… That’s a pretty sorry state of affairs!

But last year I received my Masters degree, finishing at the top of the class. I’ve traveled a lot, have excelled in sports and am lucky enough to have access to things most people don’t. I can see the situation for what it is. It’s not a big deal and things could be worse… Let me tell you why and how I came to think this way:

It’s a part of life

My favourite show at the moment (which I just finished thanks to a binge watching session) is True Detective. But there was one quote in particular which really stood out to me because it clashed so heavily with my view of the world:

You know the good years when you’re in ‘em? Or do you just wait for them till you get ass cancer and realize the good years came and went? ‘Cause there’s a feeling – you might notice it sometimes – this feeling like life has slipped through your fingers. Like the future’s behind you – like it’s always been behind you.

The main thing I take from this is the fact that moments in life do slip through your fingers, especially when it comes to failure. It’s a lot like trying to hold sand in your hands when you’re in big surf, the moments slip away regardless of how much you try to hold on, so put your energy into swimming to shore.

To be a bit more literal; yes, you failed. Get over it and try and move on. Dwelling on it only keeps you stuck in a situation you’d rather not be in.

Your perspective is everything…

There’s a couple of recent examples where I’ve failed and I’m honest about the fact that they are failures, but each of them comes as their own chance for more positive outcomes. The one that sticks out the most, for me is the most recent:

  • Quitting a job: Most recently, I was working in an agency, client management role, in a particularly toxic environment. The feeling of isolation from the rest of the company, even from people within my own team (of about 10) caused by the invisible walls that politics and cliques bring was huge (This is a general statement of the company culture as a whole, not a commentary on individuals). I experienced pretty severe burn-out, (having to pick up the slack for others, which no one sought to resolve, whilst attempting to manage newer and more important issues) a few months of depression and a huge sense of being unfulfilled.

Leaving was a big risk. There was, however, a moment where I thought to myself that I’d managed to take a role and augment it more into something that I’d wanted in terms of my career direction and I’d learned some very valuable skills which were relevant to my direction. At the time, I’d hit a wall. Despite that, I had managed to cultivate a unique standing in my team, working across different functions and had set myself up to have the best possible scope for doing something I’ll love.

 It’s not the end of the game

The act of failure is that stepping stone that everyone needs to take. It’s like touching a hot stove for the first time. It burns you once, but then you try something different next time. Richard Branson and Elon Musk are definitely exemplars of this and inspirations to me.

Everyone fails, but whether it’s big or small, it comes as naturally as losing teeth, ending a relationship or getting fired. If you maintain an objective and outward viewpoint to failure, you’ll be better able to see it for what it is, understand it and move past it, improving when you take the next step.

As mentioned before, this is my outlook due to a big life lesson. And has a bit to do with that picture (I bet you were wondering where that fit in).

When I learned about objectivity and keeping perspective

That picture is of me at the age of 22, February 2009. A pretty hot, but rainy day at the beach in one of my favourite places in the world. I was always slight, but athletic, never weighing much for my height… but if you look closely, you might see that this was actually my Dallas Buyer’s Club moment. I wasn’t much more than 55 kilo’s here, which is not great at 180cm tall!

On the second of July 2008, I was supposed to fly to Finland for three months. Instead, I was in hospital undergoing a battery of tests and consultations. See, I’d been diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer (at the age of 21 by the way!) the day before. No reason for having it, good diet, active, non-genetic and not environmental. This experience was pretty horrible, but a strengthening one.

After the removal of 40% of my large intestine and a bunch of lymph nodes, I nearly died having been given incorrect doses of morphine, underwent six months of chemotherapy (I grew my hair longer because I luckily didn’t lose it thanks to newer treatments) where I suffered extreme dehydration, nerve damage and severe weight loss. Once that was finished in February 2009, a follow-up scan showed a suspect growth behind my pancreas. The outlook was positive, but the risk of death due to recurrence or surgical complications was laid out clearly by the doctor… But I wasn’t so worried at that point, not because of what I went through, but what other’s had gone through not long after that picture was taken.

February 7th, 2009, two days after that picture was taken, the Black Saturday fires in Victoria started… on the 9th of February I found myself exhausted having had my second last chemotherapy session the week prior. Watching the events unfold on tv, I started crying, broken by a caller to a news station who had just fled her home, with a story I will never forget. The fires moved so quickly that people barely had time to pack their possessions. This woman, however, had to leave something far more precious behind… Her mother.

I thought back to that woman telling her story as I rested from my exhaustion. Her mother was unable to be moved due to medical equipment she was attached to. Imagine seeing the approaching wall of fire, smoke filling the sky and being forced to say goodbye to your mother as she tells you to leave, that it’s okay to leave her, even though you can’t simply put her in your car to drive her to safety.

After all I’d been through, I still found myself in a relatively good situation where I may have died. But I didn’t. In fact there was next to no risk of that happening in the end… But what significance did that have when I thought back to hearing this woman’s story on the news?

It’s not all doom and gloom

Personally, I know that people deal with failure differently and few will share my experiences. But the key thing is that failure, like all things, is an essential part of life. When you find yourself in the situation of having failed, just remember that, no matter what it is, it can always be worse.

I would hope that people who’ve failed see my current situation, the situation I was in, and the fact that not even that was the worst thing going on in the world, can realise that while it’s not the greatest thing to be happening it’s just something that happens, you’ll learn from it and you’ll be able to come out better and stronger as a result.

Take it on, break it down and see it for what it is. If you can keep objective and think outwardly, failure (or any terrible situation you might find yourself in) will be far easier to deal with, or potentially, become something you’ll know how to avoid.

So, with all things in life, think outwardly, be positive and if you fail, reward yourself for the effort you put in for trying in the first place.

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