It Can Be a Good Thing
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 22:04
At a conference a couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to hear Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, speak about failure, an unpleasant outcome that everyone experiences and almost everyone fears. “Failure looks good on your resume,” he opined – a remark that I can’t say I was expecting to hear – “because then people know you’re actually human.”
Fear of failure is ingrained in us at an early age. Often, that fear has to do with external validation, the response we get from others. Just as often, it can be rooted in nonsense.
I remember begging my mom to buy me a pair of pink Ugg boots in the seventh grade, a fashion gambit I had cooked up as part of a regular succession of schemes designed to propel me up the social ladder at my oh-so-cliquey middle school. When my mom dashed my hopes, the feeling of failure was palpable, and I had the middle school equivalent of a nervous breakdown. How would I show my face at school with Ugg-less feet?
When high school rolled around, this fear of failure translated into worry about grades. I scored a 79 on an economics exam right around the time college applications were due. Relating my test score to my overall grade, I feared that my top choice, Smith, would judge me a failure. Would the admissions office even be able to see beyond what that score did to my grade? I was ruined, or so I thought.
But here I am. It’s pretty obvious to see that there were no long-term results from what were clearly little failures, although social disappointments and academic shortcomings are right at the heart of what dismays girls the most.
What I realize now is that I need to see beyond such experiences. Instead of having FDUP (Failure Disorder with Unnecessary Panic), I should have focused on what I was going to do differently, turning my unpleasant experiences into something more constructive. I would imagine that the higher the stakes, the harder the feeling is to overcome, but I am determined to apply this philosophy when I need to.
Even if you’ve done all you can, you need to accept the idea that sometimes the situation is out of your control. You can try your absolute best, have all of the credentials and more, and still fail to land your idea of the dream internship or fail to get accepted into your dream school. Why? Because, as a past teacher used to say, “Sometimes life is a crapshoot.” It is important for Smithies to keep this idea in mind – especially now, when we are hearing back from graduate schools, internship opportunities and potential employers.
Keep failure in perspective, because you won’t always deserve it, but it pays to try to understand it. Job interviews sometimes even pose the question, asking you to reflect on what you’ve learned from what you’ve done wrong or what you haven’t accomplished. Maybe Biz Stone was right.
Nobody wants to fail. I know that life often deals out disappointment, and I’m grateful to have lived a life of relatively few real failures. We don’t plan for failure, and we don’t intend to fail, at least not consciously, but we need to be able to confront it and make the most of what we don’t accomplish. Misfortune might just be another way to spell opportunity.