One important gift we can all give ourselves is the gift of failure — sometimes, we learn the most about ourselves (and our capacity for resilience) when we fall on our faces. And Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington often says that failure is a stepping stone to success.
The New York Times recently wrote about Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School who encouraged fellow scholars to create a “failure resume” a few years ago, and then put one together for herself, listing harsh feedback from bosses, programs she was rejected from, and other setbacks. “Sometimes I look back on them and see how much I’ve actually struggled to be where I am. That’s a powerful reminder that I deserve to be here,” she said. It’s “a good reminder of how much you’ve tried.”
Openly sharing our failures with each other is equally powerful. It helps us see that we’ve all struggled on the path to success and experienced letdowns. So we asked members of the Thrive Global community to share moments of failure that taught them the most about themselves. Which of these do you relate to?
Losing a job that wasn’t the right fit anyway
“Losing my job felt like losing my identity. I remember my former employer telling me that I didn’t fit in. He said I was skilled at growing and developing talent, but that it didn’t work for their culture. My ego, confidence, and spirit were totally crushed. But after I got through the initial pain, I realized that he was right. Two months later, I built a mentorship organization where we develop female entrepreneurs and executives. If I hadn’t painfully received the message of where and why I didn’t belong, I may not have found where I did.”
—Stacy Cassio, CEO, Charlotte, NC
Surviving a period where everything in your life seemed to go wrong
“In college, I flunked one semester and was asked to leave the program, my roommate kicked me out, my high school sweetheart and I split up, and I lived out of my Ford Ranger for nearly a year. I enrolled in summer courses to use the recreational center for showers, found a job at a restaurant for food, and met an entire culture of people living on the streets. To quote Dr. Wayne Dyer’s memoir, ‘I can see clearly now.’ So I sobered up, talked my way into a different program at school on a probationary basis, and became an apartment manager for free rent. My former high school boyfriend and I are still friends to this day, but it took many years. These experiences helped me believe in myself for the very first time. I knew that from that point forward, I would be able to handle whatever came my way.”
—Renee Tarantowski Baude, mindfulness teacher, Chicago, IL
Being rejected from a position you wanted
“After two years of applying to senior positions, ten interviews, and endless rejections, I was unanimously recommended for a high level position within my organisation. The General Manager at the time decided to repost the position because he felt I was immature. At that moment, I decided not to be a victim, but a thriving survivor. I ended up getting the job in the end and continuously overachieved in the following years.”
—Nadja EL Fertasi, stakeholder senior executive coordinator, Brussels, Belgium
Quitting a job to think bigger
“This may seem small, but as a teacher, leaving school mid-year is a big no-no. After seeking advice, I decided to go back to school to pursue my master’s in Professional Counseling full-time. I made this difficult decision during the first year of my marriage. I realized that I cared far more about what others thought of me than what was best for me and my family. But after completing the graduate program, teaching for a few more years, and opening my counseling practice, I’m so glad I took this tough step that at times felt like a giant mistake. It was costly but rewarding.”
—Josh Neuer, licensed professional counselor, Greenville, SC
Letting a business idea fall away to focus on life
“I spent two years developing a business idea. Then, with much excitement, I moved to the fundraising stage. This was my time — I’d taken the best of what I’d learned from past failures and just knew my life was on the right path…but then, my sister called with serious news. My mother, who lived by herself a thousand miles away, decided to have a voluntary, but life-threatening surgery. She’d been suffering from major back and spinal problems for 30 years, and the daily pain had gotten so bad that she was willing to risk everything. While this hit me like a ton of bricks, I was overwhelmed with one burning thought: my biggest failure in life wasn’t professional, but personal. I’d neglected to show her just how much I really loved her.
So I put my business aside, sold everything I could (including my car), packed up a rental truck and met with my mother as quickly as possible. She was so brave, and the surgery went well, but had to go through an agonizing year of physical therapy. I took care of her the entire time, and it was the best priority shift of my life. She was willing to risk failure without any regrets. Her attitude gave me the power to build my business with a new perspective. Now I embrace failures and view them as simple mistakes to learn from and correct. What a gift. And yes, I live very close to my mom now.”
—Todd Garrett, marketing, Nashville, TN