I know, this is bold, maybe even uncomfortable for some of you. But I’m about to drop the F word…
Well now that I’ve dropped it, we may as well pick it up and have a chat about what it means. Grab yourself a cuppa and join me for a different perspective on what it means to fail, and why I actually believe there is no such thing. And don’t worry, I’m not about to get all Tony Robbins on you and start fist pumping and chanting that Failure is just winning in disguise etc. !
At age 22 and in the final year of my Undergrad degree, it was time to start my applications for Graduate recruitment programs. I applied for 5 jobs in Accounting firms (yes I know… I forget that I used to be an Accountant too!). Of these 5 firms, 3 of them were to the more elite ‘Big 4’ Accounting firms and the remaining 2 were to the supposedly more work-life-balance-friendly Mid-tier firms. I felt the Mid-tier vibe was more my jam all along but wanted to go through the interview process with the Big 4’s to be really sure that I was making the right choice.
And so I did. And this included a range of aptitude tests, interviews & various other ways to put you under pressure and see if you would sink or swim basically.
One of these interviews stands out in my mind. It was PwC (one of the ‘Big 4’). I sat there as I was interviewed by these people (I think in hindsight they were of the half humanoid/half robot species but can’t say for sure) and all was going well… until they asked me THIS:
“So, Amber. Tell us about a time that you worked really really hard at something, you tried everything in your power to get it, but you failed. What happened and how did you react?
And then it happened… something that had never happened in an interview before this nor since….
Deer. In. The. Headlights.
It wasn’t just that I couldn’t speak – I couldn’t think! I was combing my brain as best I could to think of ways I had failed… I mean I had prepared for the questions like “so tell us your negative traits or areas you need to improve” and I had those covered to a tee with fake negatives like “oh you know Sir, I just work too hard” or “I’m just such a perfectionist and I won’t go home til the job is done and done RIGHT!” …. I mean I had that shit covered… but this failure one? Really threw me through the proverbial loop.
I don’t even remember what I said when I did eventually speak. I think I had left my body at that point so as to not deal with the trauma of my sudden muteness. I mean the funny thing was that I didn’t even want to work for a Big 4 – and especially not this one! But that didn’t mean I was enjoying the sudden downward spiral this interview had taken…
So the outcome? I got offered 4 jobs out of the 5 applications… not surprisingly PwC didn’t throw a pity job offer at the ‘Girl who thinks she’s perfect and has never failed at anything’. Over the years it did irk me – not because it blemished my record but because I didn’t see why I should be punished for not being an outrageous failure! You’ve got to love the irony of me failing to get the job based on failing to answer a question about failure.
And then you wouldn’t believe what happened today (okay you will believe it, its not that crazy!)
For the past few days I’ve been at a Leadership Conference in Chicago. During one of the workshops today, the Speaker asked the room THE EXACT SAME QUESTION about trying really hard at something and failing. And what did I do? I went blank! Deer in the headlights
We had to do that super fun “share with the person next to you thing” and this lovely girl (a Neuroscience major from Alabama destined to change the world) was pouring her heart out to me about how crushing it was when she received her first C last semester… and when it came to my turn I hit that same blank I hit almost 12 years ago in the PwC building overlooking the Yarra river. “Oh God, she will think I’m completely full of myself or in total denial if I say nothing, quick make something up!” my mind raced (where was this quick thinking back in 2007 mind you?). I scrambled to concoct a story… “oh well I applied for a job that I really hoped I would get but then didn’t” I blurted out before she became suspicious of my long pause and got wind of my deer in the headlights look. “Awwwwww” she said in her super sweet, super encouraging Southern American accent “ya know, I’m sure you’ll find something even better and more suited for you girl”.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that actually I work for myself and don’t plan to ever have a real job again!
Oh great, now she feels sorry for me, & I feel sorry for being a little liar, but at least that’s better than her thinking I’m in denial or full of myself…
“Right that’s it” I thought to myself as we sat back down and the Speaker carried on with her talk. “I need to get to the bottom of this whole failure thing”. Clearly I know I am not perfect and must have failed at lots of things over the years. As I started to wrack my brain in the calmness of my own seat I saw flashes of not getting the best grade or wanting something but it just not working out, failed job applications, etc… but I felt very little emotion or disappointment around any of it & it was all pretty minor stuff.
I had been taught from a very young age that if something doesn’t work out, then it’s because there will be something better out there for you. Over my life this has always proved itself to be true and as a result of forming this belief, I have never actually viewed these things as failures. Now that I am an “adult” (loosely defined!) and have combined this belief with my new understandings around trusting that all is working out for your highest good, I have even less fear of failure.
Failure to me is all about perspective and attachment. There have been plenty of times when things have NOT worked out as I had planned or hoped, but ultimately it ended up leading me down the path of being exactly where I was meant to be – so how could I ever view that as a failure? Ultimately when you can get to this place of trust that you are being guided and are always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time then letting go does become easier.
Attachment though, is a reallllllyyyy interesting one. If you do something and then it doesn’t get your desired result and you feel disappointed afterwards, then I would invite you to ask yourself the following questions:
What does it mean to me if I did get it?
What does it mean to me if I didn’t get it?
This will highlight to you your ascribed meanings and attachments to whatever it is that you wanted so bad.
Let’s take my example of going for a job (hypothetically let’s pretend I did want to be a responsible adult for the sake of this example).
What does it mean to me if I did get it? It might mean I can feel secure financially with the wage, I can feel important and validated in society, my family and friends will be proud of me (they would be more shocked than proud but stick with me lets keep this example as broad as possible!)
What does it mean to me if I didn’t get it? That I will have financial insecurity and facing the unknown again, that I wasn’t good enough and therefore my family and friends view me to be not good enough too and therefore on some level I will no longer be worthy of their love.
So you can see that Fake Adult Amber actually had linked her attachment to getting that job with validating her in society and making her feel that she is good enough to get the love of her family and friends!
Then it’s really no wonder us humans get so crushed when we go for something and then fail! It’s not about the thing – it never was! It’s about the ascribed meaning that we attached to it.
I would invite you to explore this in your own life and for anything you find yourself really wanting – ask yourself those two questions and keep writing until you get to the deepest layer of what it means to you to have/not have it. Sometimes just getting the awareness around why you have attachment is enough, but some times you will need to do some deeper work to release it (like using a Sayer Method Process).
Let me know what comes up for you and as always drop me a message if you need any guidance!