My story is one of failure, perseverance, resilience and growth. It is not a piece of me that I have shared widely before now, but the lessons are more valuable than my apprehension, so here goes…
Between the winter of 2011 and the summer of 2012, I applied for 37 positions, went on nine interviews, and received zero offers. I was working for an institution that was not a good professional fit for me, was living alone in a city that was far from friends, family, and at that point had lived apart from my (now former) spouse for four years. Life was not easy to say the least. I felt stuck in a “no-end-in-sight” cycle of failure – each new appealing job prospect brought a renewed sense of hope that was quickly struck down with a result that had become a little too familiar. If I made it to the interview stage, the feedback was consistent: “You were great,” “there’s nothing more you could have done,” “we would have selected you if we didn’t have an internal candidate.” While these comments may seem positive, they are not what you want to hear again and again. You start to think “What’s wrong with me?” You start to see this as nothing but failure. And failing over and over again, for a long period of time, is not a fun place to be. Combining this with my lack of patience made this job search acutely agonizing.
As disheartened as I was after each rejection, I knew I had to persevere. I gave myself the time to be upset, but then picked myself up, dusted myself off, and kept going. The line between breaking point and breaking through are so close together, that when you’re ready to give up – and give in to failure – that is when you need to push through the most. I knew that, and refused to let failure get the better of me.
The 38th application I submitted led me to where I am today. I work in a department that is innovative, supportive and engaging, and an institution that is committed to student success and employee growth and development. I work with colleagues who are dedicated, talented, and student-centred. I see the impact of my work daily, weekly and annually. It is truly fulfilling work and I am so thankful to have found such a great professional fit. If I hadn’t “failed” 37 times before this, I would not be where I am today. Turns out, failure leads you to exactly where you need to be.
Yes, it is easy for me to look back now and have a clear picture of why I needed to go through those 18 months. Retrospect is an incredible teacher. When I was in the middle of my struggle, I did not and could not understand why things were happening the way they were. If you are being challenged by failure or struggle, I hope that the lessons I learned from my experience will resonate with you. They have been invaluable learning for me:
Build & Rely On Your Support Network
I believe that relationships are the cornerstone of life. We rarely do anything alone, and having a solid support network is crucial to getting through the tough times. Have key people within your support network that you trust and respect and do not be afraid to lean on them. Know who to turn to when you just need to vent, when you need a shoulder to cry on, and when you need a kick in the pants (this may not be the same person).
Put time into building a full life, so that work is not the only thing you have. Volunteer at the humane society, star in a local theatre production, make time for family and friends, take a vacation (or a staycation), or join that running club. Do things that bring you joy and fulfillment that are not tied to work. This way, if work is challenging (and not in Sanford’s Challenge & Support kind of way), you have a whole host of things to keep you motivated.
Things may not always happen on your timeline. Take time to understand what you want and set goals to help you get there. Try to be patient with the process and trust that it is unfolding as it should. (I recognize that this is a lot easier said than done, and it is something that I continue to work on.)
When you face failure, take the time to process it, but do not reside there. Do what you can to move forward. Reflect on past challenges, and remember how you got through those times. Use that strength to push through and persevere.
Failure is not forever. When you overcome obstacles to achieve your goals, take the time to celebrate. Reflect on the lessons learned through the process, and then do something special just for you. Don’t forget to include those who supported you through the process – they will want to share in your celebration!
To close, I want to share a quote that has become a bit of a mantra for me:
“Fall down seven times, Stand up eight.” –Japanese Proverb
It is a constant reminder that there will be setbacks in life, but working through them and coming out stronger is the reward.
If I ever muster up the strength to get a tattoo, it will be of that quote.