Last Wednesday was the worst day of my life.
Okay, not the worst. No one died, and I didn’t have some earth-shattering experience, necessarily. But I did fail big, about four times, in areas that really mattered.
My first mistake was scheduling everything on one day. My work schedule isn’t very flexible, so I tried to make everyone happy by scheduling around it. This resulted in me running around, driving like a maniac, and having a generally awful and anxious attitude.
My second mistake was not clearly communicating with my boss about when I needed to leave work to get to my big interview. This resulted in my panicked phone calls to my manager, begging for another worker to come take my place so I could put on heels and tight, unflattering clothing.
My third mistake was going to the interview at all. Granted, it wasn’t really my fault that the organization posted a job description that was completely vague and not at all what the president of the organization said in the interview. It was devastating, though, because I had hope that I was actually going to be doing something professional for my first job out of college.
My fourth mistake was getting lost on the way to an exam I needed to take to graduate, and then proceeding to fail that test by two points.
After the test I got lost again on my way back to school. My work party was that night, and they gave out awards for people who were the most punctual, the most hardworking, etc. I received none of them. After working my hardest for years, never being late, almost never taking off work, and always being the “responsible one,” I had nothing to show for it.
I went home that night and cried. A lot.
There’s something about failure that cuts deeper than most tragedies in life. We personally feel responsible for our world crumbling around us. There’s always a buildup to an event or test or experience, and when it doesn’t work out, there’s this feeling of shame that keeps us from doing anything but wallowing in misery for a while.
Now that I’ve had about a week to process this very bad day full of failure, I’ve come up with three ways to re-think failure on a daily basis.
1. Each experience teaches you something new about yourself.
In that awful interview I learned that I cannot be a salesperson, which was what the interviewer wanted from me. Just the thought of having to stand in a store and bother shoppers (which I’ve done before) makes me anxious and terrified. I also learned that I have poor time-management skills and that those are what kept me from passing my test. I can’t be too busy to study. Finally (and this one I’m not so proud of), I need recognition. When I work really hard at something, especially at work, not being recognized or appreciated really gets to me. I wind up feeling worthless. Therefore, finding a job that has an encouraging atmosphere would be a good fit for me.
2. Dwelling on failure makes moving forward a lot harder.
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s something I need to be reminded of. Studies have shown that dwelling on failure impedes future performance. Anxiety and stress are two things we know are not good for us, and yet those two things can be found as soon as we begin dwelling on our failures. Some people may say that stress from failure makes them work harder and get a job done correctly, but I’m not convinced that’s healthy or effective; it trains our bodies to go into a state of survival, almost machine-like, trying to get things done the right way. Dwelling on the past causes stress on us as we try to navigate the future, but letting go of that, hard as it may be, will allow us to move onto the next thing as our best selves.
3. Failing does not make you a failure.
This is a hard one to learn and accept. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to feel like we’re worthless after we mess up, but failing is something we do, not something we are. Instead of focusing on the current thing (or things) that went wrong, remembering your talents and accomplishments will remind you of how much you are capable of. Now, this isn’t an excuse to not care about mistakes you’ve made, but instead it’s a reason for a perspective shift. Bad things will happen just like good things will happen, and we are usually in control of it. But when something goes wrong and we can’t do anything about it, telling ourselves we are not the sum of our failures will lead to a quicker turnaround.
The failures in my life have recently been a little overwhelming. Tomorrow I have my second interview for a job I’m excited about, though, and regardless of what happens I’m excited for the opportunity to grow, and to learn more about myself.