Last year, I was asked to speak to 200+ high school sophomores and 80+ staff members as part of a panel. The panel was called “Success Toolkit” and was focused on helping high schoolers find success at a young age. When I was asked, I chuckled and responded with an, “Are you serious?”. To me, it was quite comical to think that someone – especially someone setting presentation content for a bunch of impressionable high school kids – would look at me and think I’d be remotely qualified to speak on the topic.
Naturally, I panicked about what I’d say. I wrote some notes, trying to sound like my success was because of all the work I put in during high school and of the chances I’d taken while I was in college. But the truth is, I didn’t really work THAT hard in high school – it just came easily to me – and I didn’t do much of anything except go to class and study in between trips to the bar with my friends in college. Not such an inspirational story.
I figured I’d just dodge questions or make something up if the kids asked me to talk about my path. But when I got up there, I just started talking. I talked about the goals I’d set for myself; the endless list of mistakes I’d made; the tough moments that made it seem like I should give up; and, of course, I talked about all the times I cried myself to sleep, convinced that I’d be poor and lonely for the rest of my life. When I finished talking, I saw all the horrified looks on the faces of the kids around the room and figured I’d be asked to leave immediately after the session was over. But much to my surprise, most the questions were directed to me (there were three other people on the panel with me).
When I finished talking, I found that I’d just taught myself an incredibly important lesson about failure (while simultaneously sharing that message with a bunch of high schoolers). It’s important to fail. It teaches humility and grace and perseverance. But it’s important to fail well. Here is how you do it:
Never lose sight of what you want
The goal of my life was to move to New York City. As a child, I dreamt about living there (and I’d never even been there!). I was obsessed. And when I got older, I took every chance I could to travel there. I scheduled meetings with people and went to networking events, because I knew I wasn’t just going to be able to “move there”. I looked at every possibility there was.
When life knocks you down, stand up, reassess, duck when that other punch comes around, and move forward
I was in the most promising interview yet in NYC. I had nailed every conversation up until the final interview, and then I just choked. Big surprise, I didn’t get the job. I was devastated and defeated. Four months later, my father passed away and my world turned upside down. I could have given up. I think most people probably would have given up. But my goals were all I had left. From that point forward, that was my only mission.
Don’t let others’ opinions of your failures influence your choice to persevere
After I moved to New York, I felt like nothing could touch me. I had done it – I made it. But then reality set in and I realized how expensive things were. How much it took to live there. How much I missed my friends and family back in Ohio. And how much I loved the outdoors and the wilderness. After two years, I decided to leave. I was so worried about what people would think about me. But I finally realized that they weren’t paying my bills and that I’d come back and continue moving forward.
Learn to laugh
Some failures can be outwardly humorous. Others, you might need to dig a bit to find the laugh. But the point is, you can’t take yourself too seriously. You’re going to fail. Sometimes it will suck. But you can’t let it beat you. Be honest with yourself about why it happened, course correct, and keep your head up.
Failures help us grow. Failures keep us motivated. Failures pave the way to success. Be the best failure you can possibly be.