In year 12 (age ~17) I decided to apply to be Head Girl at my school. At first I wasn’t going to apply, I was totally petrified to do so and I figured there was no point putting myself under the stress; but because of that very reason – I decided I would apply after all. The last thing I ever wanted to do was to shy away from something due to fear. The process wasn’t too complicated: we did a speech in front of our year group on any topic of our choice, a group discussion task, and then a few people got through to round two which I think involved an interview. As I was most scared about doing the speech, I put all of my energy into this; I chose to speak about our generation’s obsession with celebrity news – how comes there’s people dying in the world but we’re all just interested in whether or not Lindsay Lohan was drunk coming out of that club yesterday? (And this was back when LL/Paris Hilton/Britney Spears were celebrity news). I’m going to be honest, I think I banged my speech. Afterwards the head teacher of my school told me on two separate occasions that my speech was really good, and I was also getting approached by people I didn’t really speak to often who reiterated this fact too. The group task was good, I wouldn’t say it was anything special, because what was special was my speech.
So… I didn’t get it. I got kicked out before round two meaning that all I had to do to get to the stage I reached was .
Can we say tragic?
I think this was the first time I ever truly experienced failure – up until then my life seemed the follow the process of effort in = results and for the first time what was spat out of my “effort in” was a whole load of sadness, embarrassment and confusion. When I asked the ‘judging’ teachers what I had done wrong they said “nothing, just some people had done some stuff better than you…”
The sad thing is that as I got older, I learned that the my equation above failed to deliver more and more often: in university I worked really hard in my final year to graduate with a first class but I only managed to achieve a first in 2 of my exams, and in my second year when I did my first interview for a summer internship at what I thought was my dream firm, the doors were pretty much shut in my face. This year I dived head first into a new project, but then a few weeks ago I received some news that although didn’t stop the project, set me back juuust a tad (but not too much ;)). I’ve also sat back and watched people close to me going through disappointment, and deduced that sometimes life really doesn’t quite follow a logical path.
During times of disappointment it can seem that you’ve done everything in your power to make things go the right way and that things just weren’t meant to work in your favour – it’s so easy to throw up your arms and give up. Sometimes it is the case that you’ve done everything in your power, and perhaps things just weren’t mean to be, but also sometimes all you need is some feedback and a little time to sit back, and note a few ways you could’ve improved. Most of the time – there are things you could’ve done better. I can say in all of the above (aside from that final year of university where I genuinely put in my all), there was always more I could have improved on all of those points.
Traditionally I’d truly beat myself up whenever I got disappointing news, I’d also proceed to compare myself to 100 other people and say “what are they doing that’s so different and so much better?!” This has the potential to drive you absolutely crazy. It’s counterproductive, it’s negative, and complaining (and “woe is me”-ing) about why you failed is definitely not going to stop you from getting disappointed again the future. Actually, the only thing that really has the capacity to stop this is getting up, switching up your strategy, trying again and being patient – and this definitely easier said than done.
I try these days to live my life by two different quotes:
- “Don’t fear failure – seek failure.”
- “The most engaged yet least attached wins.”
Failure may seem crappy (because it is) but unfortunately the way the world works is that it’s pretty hard to completely sale through life. There have definitely been times where life has been just that simple for me (and I’m sure for us all) e.g. getting into LSE and eventually landing the job where I work at now are two situations in which I have been very lucky and not undergone too much stress (but then again you could also say that I created my own luck here through putting in the work). The reality is that the most successful people have failed loads, you don’t quite just wake up and become J.K. Rowling – that takes tons of drive, failure and constant improvement. Which is why you shouldn’t fear failure – there’s no other way to learn to improve and continue stepping out of your comfort zone than to have a door closed on you.
And with that all in mind – we really shouldn’t be too result dependent. For example, when I first started working out regularly I’d look at myself in my mirror every single day and peg my happiness to a number on a scale, it drove me . But recently I’ve just decided to sit back and enjoy the journey, and now when I do look at where I started and where I am now (and not just in terms of the numbers and the before & after pictures, but also in terms of how much fitter I am in the gym and how much heavier I can lift), I can see so clearly just how far I’ve come (actually, sometimes I can’t even believe how far I’ve come).
If you’re finding in hard to push through (maybe the Instagram algorithm has bitten you in the ass, you’re struggling to find a job or your soul feels sucked away in a dead end job), remember that failure is a necessary part of life. It sucks, and it requires tons on will power not to just give up (I’ve been there way too many times and I’m sure I’ll get there again), but if you can, you’ll be able to create your own luck one day. If you find yourself getting too comfortable – that’s when you should start to worry.