Embrace Your So-Called “Failure”
I was a grade-grubbing, hard-working student, raised to excel at all costs. I aimed for straight A’s throughout middle school and high school, mostly so I could present my parents with a stellar report card. Failure in any way was synonymous with the “D” word—not Death, but Disappointment, which came a close second. Disappointing my parents—and my father in particular—was , apparently, the worst thing I could possibly do. And anything less than an A on my report card was cause for disappointment. I remember once handing my dad a report card with all A’s except for a B in Algebra. Ignoring the veritable cavalcade of A’s, Daddy zeroed in on the B and tapped it sternly with his forefinger. “What’s this?” he asked, his voice drenched in disappointment. I wanted to disappear into the floorboards, ashamed to have “failed” him.
And so, in my quest to not disappoint, I aimed for top rung in everything I pursued: Nabbing the blue ribbons in high jump and 100 yard dash on track and field day; getting the lead in school plays; going after and being accepted into into a top college. This pursuit of perfection, this unwillingness to risk failure and dogged, desperate grabbing for the gold ring, always expecting that I’d get it, was utterly exhausting–and bound to bite me in the bottom, as it were. Because, when I moved to New York City to be a professional actress, the unthinkable happened: I didn’t immediately excel, in spite of gargantuan efforts. Nothing, in fact, came easily to me in NYC, most particularly getting work as an actor. I did not become an overnight sensation, did not become “Canton High School’s gift to Broadway,” as my high school principal had publicly anointed me during graduation; and so I felt I had failed, and failed in a colossal manner.
All these years later, I understand that my so-called “failure” to achieve my dream of being a lauded Broadway actress was perhaps the greatest gift I’d ever experience. I learned the value of humility. I learned about resiliency; I learned the true meaning of “when one door closes, another opens.”
Because my So-called “Failure” as a professional Broadway actress spawned some of the greatest, deepest learning and personal growth I have ever experienced—lessons and insights that indirectly spawned the coaching, training and speaking work I am currently doing and that I love so very much. Had I not “failed” miserably, then gotten back on my feet again, time and time again, in the pursuit of my goals and dreams, I would never have been able to encourage resilience and persistence in others, as I do when I get up in front of groups and deliver my TOUCH THE SKY motivational keynote; Had I not finally embraced the notion that who I am is enough, and that I don’t have to get A’s, metaphorically speaking, to be happy, loved or deeply engaged in my life, I would not be able to confidently assure my coaching clients: “it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being human.”
This week, be kind to yourself when something does not go according to plan, even when you’ve tried your hardest. Don’t beat yourself into a pulp in the face of a So-Called Failure. Instead, ask yourself “What can I learn from this situation?” Embrace your So-Called Failure for the opportunity for growth and self-reflection that it is. Celebrate the fact that you gave your endeavor the energy and the focus it deserved. Then brush yourself off and try again, perhaps in another way, through another door. If you never try, and risk So-Called Failure, you’ll never learn, grow, and move ahead. Because, as Elbert Hubbard said, “There is no more failure except in no longer trying.”