My greatest personal triumphs have been a direct result of my largest failures.
My senior year of high school, my life looked perfect to anyone from the outside looking in. I was valedictorian of my class, captain of the girls track team, lead in the fall musical, sports editor of the school newspaper, had created my own broadcasting club and was accepted into my first choice for college. My parents also were (and still are) happily married.
I had everything. And I still do, honestly.
But I attribute (almost) everything to the fact that I know how to handle failure.
Looking back, there were so many times I could have cracked under the pressure to be perfect. I was a quintessential Type A growing up; to-do lists, over-achiever, straight-A student, perfectionist.
The biggest challenge for Type A’s is when they’re confronted with failure.
For me, failure never came in the classroom. I earned a Golden B award in high school because I never got below an A in any of my classes (not even an A-).
The only times I really failed were in my sports career.
I wasn’t the best runner on the track team, not even close, so I often finished in the middle of the pack during races. Occasionally, I would win a race while on a relay team, but for me as an individual, the first place ribbons were rare.
But that wasn’t why I ran. I ran because I enjoyed it. The losses sucked, don’t get me wrong, but I learned from each and every one. I learned how to lose graciously and work harder to see better results; both traits I use in my career – not that I’m racing people at CCPE.
Knowing how to handle losing helped me face my largest challenge.
My biggest failure in life to date came on April 2, 2012. As I mentioned earlier, grades weren’t an issue for me. My motivation for working so hard was to win the Lilly Scholarship – a full ride to any state school in Indiana – and win a bet my dad and I had made when I was 14. If I won the Lilly, he would buy me a little red sports car.
I submitted my application, attended a formal dinner designed to narrow the pool down to four candidates and underwent a rather pleasant but intensive interview process with the selection committee. I had made calculated decisions my entire high school career to win this award.
They said they would announce the winner on April 1, and I spent my Spring Break with it on the back of my mind. When April 1 came around, I didn’t receive a phone call, but was told by the other candidates they hadn’t either.
So there I was, Monday, April 2, waiting. I was anxious the entire day and my anxiety became so severe it actually affected my track practice to the point where I had to stop practicing because I couldn’t breathe properly. I wasn’t hyperventilating or crying or any of the more severe signs of anxiety, but I felt like someone was sitting on my chest and not allowing my lungs to expand properly.
My coach, who could tell something was wrong with me because I had never done anything like that before, allowed me to stop and sat next to me silently while I tried to calm myself. I appreciated the fact that he didn’t yell at me and let me be in that moment. He didn’t try to talk to me and ask me what was wrong, all he said was, “Let’s try again tomorrow.”
When I got home, I received the call: “Thank you for applying, but we’ve decided to go with another candidate.”
I could tell I was about to start crying but I managed to squeak out, “Thank you for your consideration. Could you tell me who won?”
The woman on the phone told me another guy from a different school (who I was friends with and knew he was deserving of the award), and actually complimented me on being thoughtful enough to ask.
I hung up the phone, looked at my mom who was watching me the entire time and began to sob. I mean full on ugly crying.
My mom ran outside and grabbed my dad, who is notoriously amazing at understanding how I process and handle failure.
I spent the next however many minutes being hugged my parents and just sobbing.
“You still have scholarships,” my parents reassured me. “You did everything you could and we’re proud of you.”
The loss stung for a while; this was a goal I had worked toward for over four years and I didn’t accomplish it.
It would have been so easy for me to give up or become self destructive in that moment. But, what good would that have done? There were still so many things I had accomplished as a direct result of trying to achieve that goal. I had a 4.0 GPA, was graduating first in my class, and had several opportunities afforded to me as a direct result of the effort.
I understand this failure may pale in comparison to other setbacks people have gone through and I’m definitely not trying to trivialize failure. What I’m trying to get across is that seemingly perfect people fail too.
Everyone faces struggles, but it’s how we handle that adversity that defines us. You can either be a sheep and be eaten alive by the failure, or be a dragon and conquer it.
In the words of Lady Olenna from Game of Thrones, “Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
Photo: Kristin Smith|freeimages.com