Social media has a knack for sanitizing our lives and making everything look easy. We talk a lot about our wins. We cover the highlights, the vacations, and the dreams fulfilled. So let’s talk about something that is decidedly not easy — failure. When is the last time you experienced it? It certainly doesn’t feel nice. But the more I reflect on it, the more I realize failure is actually a good thing! If we can just figure out how to step beyond it… and learn from it.
Well, it hit me last week. And not the “darn, that wasn’t my best effort” kind of failure, but a straight up “I bombed that” scenario. I had decided to venture slightly outside my comfort zone by auditioning for a commercial acting role. Although I have a decade of on-camera experience anchoring and hosting TV news programs, I am no actor. Still, I thought I could do it. My skills were transferable and the script seemed simple. What did I have to lose? I memorized it, got comfortable with the performance elements, and earned a call back. Then I got in the audition space… and froze.
I was three lines in when my mind went blank. Worse yet, I couldn’t recover when I started over. I kept losing the lines – and there weren’t many of them. Where was my brain at? It was profoundly embarrassing. How could someone accustomed to live reporting and ad-libbing through breaking news fail to spit out such a simple script? This wasn’t rocket science. I had let myself down in a big way. I felt amateur, unprofessional. But after a day or two of beating myself up, I realized… A) everyone has an off day… and B) there were some significant lessons here.
It prevents complacency – Whether we’re talking about a job, a sport, or an audition, it is easy to get complacent when things go well. We feel comfortable. We have an urge to rest on our laurels. After all, haven’t we done enough? We’ve worked hard to hone our craft! But that’s not really the language of successful people, is it? Personal growth is a lifelong pursuit. No matter what you’ve achieved, you can always learn more.
My botched audition reminded me that I was out of practice. Yes, I have plenty of experience performing on camera under pressure. However, it has been three years since I’ve experienced the glare of the studio lights. I need time to get back in the swing of things. Repetition is important. In short, I’ve got to get back on the horse and do this thing again! I also needed more sleep the night before – and probably should have opted for breakfast instead of a giant cup of coffee. Caffeine doesn’t exactly cut jitters, does it?
It helps you learn – There’s nothing more powerful than learning from your mistakes. In fact, one of the best bosses I’ve ever had believed in that so much, he used to call the TV station he directed “graduate school with a little bit of pay.” He expected us to make mistakes, but also ensured we learned from them. “Let’s not do that again,” he’d joke, while talking us through the teachable moment. Failure is an opportunity to try a different method, to start again, or to reassess your approach.
It creates new opportunities – When I look back at the most painful failures I’ve had in my life (a botched audition sucks, but I’m talking about much bigger let downs here), they always seem to nudge me on a path toward better things. Don’t get me wrong, I typically don’t see that path at the time… Failure often drags me along kicking and screaming. However, the saying “everything happens for a reason” is totally true! Failure allows us to consider directions, opportunities, and ideas we would never have entertained before. It re-frames your thinking and forces a “reset” of sorts. You end up looking deeper inside yourself to see what you need to do next.
It builds humility – People don’t like to talk about humility very much. It’s not exactly a trait popular culture places value on. However, there is a distinct beauty in humility. Think about the last time you came across an inflated ego… I bet it was a turn off.
In contrast, how about the last time you encountered a successful person who also had an unexpected air of humility? Refreshing, right? You can’t help but have respect for quiet, unassuming confidence. Failure helps build it. In fact, life’s disappointments help us better connect with and relate to each other. Failure can also be inspiration at times, even when it’s not “failing forward” or leading to success on the other side (here’s a great piece in the Washington Post discussing that).
Nothing will ever make failure comfortable, but embracing it as a growth process does make it suck a little less. How do you emerge from failure? Any big lessons or takeaways? Please share in the comments below!