SERIES: It’s okay to fail

There was a time where I wouldn’t have ever talked about “failing” something. (I’ll get to why I generally use quotes around the word “failing” later.) The last few years, however, I’ve found myself opening up more about places in my life where things didn’t work out. I’ve had some solid runs with projects but there have also been moments where I’ve looked at an event in my life and felt like everything is ending.
Towards the end of my undergrad, I’d run into a problem where I was no longer motivated to pursue a career in forensic anthropology or social work. I was, for all intents and purposes, stuck in what most people call a rut. Of course, no one is ever at their happiest when they are stuck in a rut because it means that at least a handful of facets in your life suck.

I’d been on the bus heading out to school one morning when I had run into an old classmate from my high school days. We got to chatting about what she’d been doing the past few years and it turned out she was getting ready to apply for the Public Policy program at SFU. She explained to me what the program taught people, how it worked and how long it went for. Suddenly, I was interested.

So off I went — I applied. (I won’t bore you with the tedious details of what was required to apply, but I will tell you that I did become incredibly obsessed with the process.)

About two months later I heard from them: I had failed to make the first cut of applicants. And for someone who, nine-and-a-half-times out of ten would try something and usually prevail, this one stung because it was the first time I was told “no” right out of the gate.

For about a week or so I went through all kinds of emotions. How could you guys reject me? Do you know what you’re missing out on? I could have done something; been something after taking this program. 

And then it hit me: why was I so desperate to do this program? Was I actually interested? Did I really give two shits about public policy? (Hint: the answer was not even remotely.) I had affirmed I just wanted to get in so I could say I got in, and then give myself something to do until the course was over.

This situation taught me to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my life. While I didn’t immediately have the answers to what exactly it was I wanted to do, being able to reflect on this round of “failure” told me that I really needed to take a step back and learn a little more about myself. At that point in time, I couldn’t tell you what I was interested in or what I felt like doing because I had no sense of what I wanted. And unlike my classmates who had their lives prescribed to them at a young age, I didn’t know what to do — but what I did know is that I needed to find my own thing, not abide by someone else’s terms and regulations.

I guess it worked out: I ended up in journalism, which is awesome, but it doesn’t mean I made it to this point easily. I only got to this point through a series of modest successes — and a ton of really bad “failures.” It’s absolutely okay to experience failure. It is a hard pill to swallow, but what really matters at the end is bouncing back from the incident(s) and getting back up. I could have stayed down. I could have said not getting into the Public Policy Program was the end of the world. So, I ask you to stop, take a moment, and reflect. Don’t ever count yourself out. Take a moment to really see if that “failure” is a sign that you need to change your approach — or maybe that thing you’re chasing isn’t in the cards for you (at least, not at this time).

It will be nothing short of a herculean task. Depending on who you are you’re going to have to exercise a lot of patience, and if you are anything like me you’ll have to learn to get to know yourself better. Whether that’s listing out what your dreams and goals are, or talking to someone like a friend or counsellor about it, you’ll have to find the way that works for you in getting the most out of your thoughts and feelings.

Don’t give up. There is something out there for you, it’s just a matter of giving yourself the chance to find it. I’m glad I took a moment to stop, give myself a chance to hear myself, and then act on that before I just decided to throw my hands up in the air and say, “eff this.”

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