We’re conducting interviews at work and one of the questions we ask is “What does failure mean to you?”. I guess what we’re trying gain from this is to find out how a potential employee would deal with messing up on the job, which does happen from time to time.
Everyone’s answer to this is pretty textbook. They all say that failure is a learning experience, which is true. Failure is certainly something you’re supposed to learn from but sitting in a few of these interviews and staring into those bright eyes and smiling faces I know that they haven’t answered the actual question. What does failure mean to you?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what failure means to me. Not only with regards to my first failed cycle but every failure in my life thus far. Failing a class at university (Partying was more important back then). Failing at making a relationship work. Failing at getting a job I applied for. And those are just the big fails. I have yet to open a jar on my own.
I think we’re all just a sum of all our failures. Failures make us who we are and determines how we react to situations and how we communicate with people. So it would make sense that failure should mean more than just being a learning experience.
So what does failure mean to me? A few things. For me, processing failure to get to a point where you can say failure is a learning experience is similar to stages of grief. Here are the stages of failure in my experience and what they mean to me.
1. Failure means Denial:
When I fail at something the first thing I think is “Damn, I can’t believe that didn’t work.” … This feeling of denial is as strong as the amount of effort I put into the task. I replay the entire event over and over questioning everything. Why did I do it that way? Why did I get my hopes up? Why did I work so hard? I should’ve known this wasn’t going to work. The self doubt will consume me if I don’t either remind myself that I’m still worth while or have someone to remind me. But when I’m in denial I’m not feeling very worthy.
2. Failure means Anger/Shame:
Who can I blame for my failure? I’m still ask the questions from above but my answers is usually myself and it’s not good. Self doubt makes way for self deprecation. Why did I get my hopes up? Because I’m an idiot that’s why. I’m not good enough, not smart enough. How am I going to show my face in public again? I find myself saying things like “I’m never doing that again” and this is when I’m throwing away or burning things that remind me of failure and I’m simply just no fun to be around.
3. Failure means Anxiety:
Here’s where everything about the failure freaks me out and I can literally feel the bile rise in my throat at the thought of trying again. I don’t like to think about this. Even now… let’s move on.
4. Failure means … Fuck It:
Giving up is my “favourite” part of failure. I always spend my most time here. I think I’m still here now with regards to my cycle failure. I’m the person who would probably never go back in the water if I was bitten by a shark. I do not like facing my fears. That’s why I’m still afraid of the dark at 33 years old. Since failure, at this stage, has made me anxious and afraid I will now happily stick my head in the sand and never have to face it again. I’m still saying “I’m never doing that again” but with less anger and more matter-of-fact shoulder shrugging. It’s safe here. But of course it’s no way to live. If you keep giving up on everything, you’ll quickly run out of things to do.
5. Failure means Acceptance:
Here’s where I finally come to terms with the fact that I can’t live my life under my covers. I’ve had time to think about it. I’m able to finally open up and talk and sometimes even laugh about my failure. This is a good place to be. I can begin to formulate a plan for trying again. Am I ready to try again? No! I’m only ready to talk about trying again.
6. Failure means Learning:
When I try again after a failure is when I learn. I can’t in the wake of failure find the lessons. Doing the task again is when I learn a new way to go about it. I’m more cautious but more determined. And I learn a little bit more about myself which is one of the most important parts of failure. But it’s not the part that makes me the happiest, even if I’m successful this time around.
7. Failure mean Empathy:
This is what means the most to me about failure. Empathy has become so important to me at this stage in my life. Being able to relate to someone on their level is so invaluable, because you’ll know what to say and what not to say. And being able to distinguish that you aren’t on their level, that you aren’t able to actually walk a mile in their shoes, is just as invaluable.
Failure has made me mindful and has allowed me to grow where I never thought I needed to grow. Failure is inevitable and important. None of us would be who or where we are without a little bit of failure. Failure is also scary. We try to shield ourselves from it daily with hope and faith but finding the balance between hope and failure is tricky and all we can really do is be prepared for either outcome.
I’m proud of all my failures. That’s what failure means to me.
So what does failure mean to you?