FAILURE, THE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

Early in my professional training I realised that YOU LEARN MORE FROM FAILURE THAN FROM SUCCESS. And I only learned that by failing.

What could I possibly mean? Isn’t Success the be-all-and-end-all?

Not always. A failure in an examination or selection process is maybe showing you your limits: indicating the level at which you are most comfortable to continue operating. Perhaps you’re better to remain as a team-player rather than aspire to be a coach, captain, office manager, Head of Department…. Perhaps aim to be the best team-player instead. Hopefully the person or people above you in the pecking order will realise your worth, regardless.

If, for example, you apply more than once for seniority but are not chosen, the game-plan changes slightly because NOW they may look at you in a new light: she has more ambition than we realised; he is willing to stretch himself and extend his skills; if I don’t watch out she’ll be my competition; better be careful or we might lose him to another company so let’s give him a raise anyway….

Certainly a failure may urge you on ahead — to try again, to alter your goal slightly so that it matches your abilities better — and this is good, as long as you understand not everybody can be at the top of the heap (have you chosen the most appropriate heap?)

All that apart, the most valuable things I learned from Failure were within the realm of professional examinations. I discovered that:

#1 If you succeed the first time, all that you know is you were good enough. You might never know what exactly tipped the scales in your favour. Feedback may not be very particular. However if you fail, there is more likelihood of justification for that verdict. And so you learn more of the Expectations and Parameters.

#2 Your teacher/mentor then has more information and direction regarding helping you through a re-sit. And in that process he/she becomes more valuable not just to you, but to others. Also, if a number of others fall short in the same way, examiners have been known to circulate among interested parties what they notice about recent trends which may need addressing (not personally helpful to you, but nevertheless of value).

#3 An examination percentage/grade will let you know by how much you failed. That helps you know if your aim is ever going to be attainable, or might be so after several more efforts or by covering more study, or if you’ve found the extent of your upward accomplishments. Might it be that you ought now try lateral extension, applying what you know to related areas instead?

#4 Henry Ford said “Failure is [just] the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” (I inserted the “just”). Because of feedback from failure, you now know: how much more effort/skill you require to meet to succeed next time, or the time after that; where exactly to direct your efforts; which parts of the selection process are purely subjective, so therefore always a risk factor; whether you ought to re-set your aim in a different direction.

If you fail but are NOT given feedback, do ask for some, making it clear you’d like that as guidance towards further efforts and not in order to question their decision. Following a job interview where you were not selected, ask if they are willing to indicate to whom you were being compared, and what pointed them towards the right person. One of my daughters discovered there had been 90 applications for her first job (she got it because she’d done a lot of volunteer work in similar places and had just asked for permission to do some there). Another daughter applied for a lecturing position and discovered there had been 70 applicants, all similarly with a PhD (she got an administrative job instead).

You won’t kick yourself so much if you find out what your competition was.

Remember, too, that an interviewing panel may not have much indication of your stellar values. Behind you there may be years of appreciation by college teachers or supervising staff — you may have been a widely-lauded student — and you will have made an effort to present testimonials acknowledging that. But these folk who do not know you cannot be aware of the full extent, and might prefer to notice your body language, your ready responses, the extent to which you showed interest and sincerity. So your ego may suffer yet another blow… and you learn that your reputation won’t follow you everywhere.

To begin again more intelligently? Write down all that you’ve learned of those chosen and why you weren’t. Observe how those ahead of you in the game present themselves and operate: visit websites, watch performances, create a platform for yourself… and do look into body language, since you may have been doing yourself a disservice in that respect.

And listen to another bit of advice from Henry Ford, who said something along the lines of “No, I don’t know the answer to every question, but I know which button to push to find out who does.”

Your comments are welcome regarding the value of Failure!

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