Hi, my name is Audra, and I recently had an #SAfail.
As the clock ticked closer to 11:00 am, a feeling rose in my chest that I hadn’t experienced in a long time: the aching disappointment of hosting a failed program. Phrases I’d said to my student staff members in similar situations countless times before rang in my head:
“You gave it your best effort!”
“This is an awesome idea, but next time let’s work on the execution!”
“It’s not about the number of people who attended, but the amount of impact you had on those who came!”
Unsurprisingly, none of those phrases helped me feel better as I glanced back and forth between my supervisor and the mostly uneaten catering I had ordered for the event. Once serving as a representation of my good intentions, the small mountain of bagels now represented my big old flop of a program.
Intentional programming is a new element of my position that was added when I started in July, and this was my first attempt at its implementation. It didn’t go well, and I felt terrible. The clock kept ticking, students still didn’t show up, the bagels remained uneaten, and my mind spun with negativity.
“Programming is the whole reason why they hired me. And I couldn’t even get it right!”
“Why did I think it was a good idea to switch functional areas right out of grad school?”
“I can’t believe my supervisor is here to witness this sad excuse of a program.”
The clock hit the top of the hour, officially marking my program as a dud. I looked around the room in disbelief. I had worked hard to understand the campus culture and the student leaders my program was intended to reach. I tried to be creative in my program idea, marketing, and incentives. And yet here I was with my first failure as a new student affairs practitioner.
Mustering all the professionalism I could, I swallowed the lump of disappointment in my throat. Being a highly sensitive person, I knew how I instinctually dealt with failure – feeling embarrassed, defensive and upset. Just when I was about to fully launch myself into my typical spiral of negativity, I realized that it was time for “professional Audra” to emerge past “grad school Audra”. How would a real, ‘adult’ student affairs professional handle this failure? Good, bad, or ugly, a real professional owns their actions. I realized then how ownership is not a part-time entity. I have to own all the elements of what I put my time and resources into, regardless of their success. I had to make the best of this situation and own my #SAfail.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a staff member from catering coming to clear the untouched food. I quickly begged her for five more minutes, and turned my attention to the untouched bagel mountain. I scooped up the tray, passed the cream cheese off to my supervisor, and together we distributed the fruits of my failure to curious students all over the student union.
“Hi! Would you be interested in some breakfast? My name is Audra, and these are from an event I just hosted for our Elon 101 teaching assistants. Feel free to have some! Have you ever considered becoming a TA for our program?”
By taking an active role in owning this failure, my attitude toward the entire event changed. Yes, I didn’t reach my intended program audience, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t find another way to define the program’s success. As I passed out my breakfast snacks, I had the opportunity to connect with more than a dozen students I had never met before and gave each one information about applying for the student leadership position I supervise.
As I walked back to my office at the end of that morning, I was surprised to realize that the embarrassment and disappointment I felt earlier had dissipated. Taking ownership and redirection the actions of my event had completely changed my outlook. As I walked into my office, I practically felt like shouting:
Hi, my name is Audra, and I recently had an #SAfail!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Sean Eddington on Failing Forward