Failure has such a nasty connotation to it. None of us like to admit it. As though we all move through our careers, relationships and lives competently and confidently. I’m the first to admit that I skip past my own failures when I recount how I’ve gotten from point A to B.
I’m a bit of an impulsive person. I tell people in civilized conversation that I went to Panama to work for an international NGO, studying the root causes of malnutrition and the creation of plantation style farming in the country. It’s a project that ultimately led me to the work that I do today. And it’s the very first leap I ever made, leaving my hometown, my family, my bubble of security.
But boy, was it an epic failure.
I went because I was absolutely broken hearted and instead of doing what most people do after a breakup (dye their hair, get a tattoo, buy a dog?), I decided to move to another country. I did it with reckless ignorance, no preparation, and no backup plan. One day I was in Ottawa and the next I was in a shitty little hotel room in Panama City, as though someone had hit me over the head and put me there. It was a failure because I wasn’t ready to go do the work, to enjoy the country, to meet new people. Some highlights include, but are not limited to: my host family hating all Americans and thus hating and shunning me, killing a number of cockroaches with my shoe, and my village losing its water supply for a week. But it was the best failure because everything came out of it. An openness to try new things, to fail and be ok, and to move anywhere. Some positives include taking a dugout canoe up the Chagres river, using the work experience to go do a Masters in Italy, becoming fluent in Spanish.
I asked our Mindthis Magazine writers to talk about their best failures as we go into the New Year, so that not only do we fail smarter, perhaps we don’t make the same mistakes again. Now I leave my capable and competent writers from around the world to share with you, their experiences of failure.
-Alexandra Emanuelli, Lifestyle Editor
Amanda Marochko, Events and Marketing Manager for TQ, Netherlands
Over the last 9 years, I’ve been running a small side business; web development and graphic design, in addition to my regular full-time job. Starting your own business and working for yourself has always posed an interesting set of challenges, especially at the beginning. I learned the hard way that some of my biggest successes were also my biggest failures. When I was 21 years old, I was desperate for extra income to help me with my big move abroad, which in turn, lead me to some “interesting” business partnerships. I was hired to work on a project for a company about to pitch on CBC’s Dragon’s Den with an incredibly short deadline (48 hours) and a limited budget. But, like I said, I was desperate and I was referred to them through a friend, so I thought that a contract wasn’t necessary. Long story short, I’ve never seen a penny from that project but I got to see my work on television (no credit mentioned, although still pretty cool). Lessons learned: nowadays I always cross the t’s and dot the i’s. I’m also more aware of the value of my time so I only take on projects which I feel are worthwhile.
You know, it’s funny. You hear about all of these girls that get into relationships only to have their heartbroken, and you think to yourself: “That would never happen to me.” You attribute their failure to recklessness, thinking that you would do better; only to find yourself in that same situation with the same outcome. I had my heartbroken and I thought it would never happen to me because I would be smarter than all of the other girls. If I gave my heart away, it would be to the man that I would spend my life with. That was my greatest failure. It freed me from perfection, a sense of entitlement and being judgemental. In their place, I gained compassion, empathy, and confidence to be who I am. When everything that you had worked so hard to build shatters, the bright side is that you get to pick the pieces of what you want back into your life. You also meet the strength and courage you never thought you had. I now stand taller and surer than ever before. Because I now know that despite having my heart shattered into a thousand pieces, I have made it out alive. There is nothing like good old-fashioned heartbreak to teach you more about yourself, others and life than you could have ever learned. That is how my biggest failure became my greatest life lesson. In the words of Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
Daniela Milosheska, founder of Bastet Noir and Coffice, Macedonia
I used to think of failures as bad luck. For a long time, I truly considered myself a walking, breathing jinx. I just couldn’t find myself in a right place, at the right time. It was simply not happening to me. It was only when I started seeing failures as lessons, that my life changed completely. I learned that I’m not unlucky, but lucky as hell that I get to learn from my mistakes and constantly find something new, be better at what I do, which ultimately made me not just a better individual, but a better businesswoman. At the beginning, when I started Bastet Noir, I made every wrong decision possible. I trusted people I shouldn’t have, I couldn’t say no, because I thought it was rude, I was throwing money into stupid things and couldn’t quite learn how to listen to my gut, but I don’t regret any of it. I’ve grown so much because of it. Some were due to my inexperience and others were just plain stupid investments, but somehow because of them, I’ve grown into a person I not only love today but come to admire. My self-esteem grew throughout the process and I came to realize that you’re nothing without your confidence. I consider this to be my biggest failure, not having enough confidence at the beginning. A piece of advice from a wiser self to all future entrepreneurs out there is to not go into business without believing that you will somewhere down the road make it, because if you don’t believe in the success of whatever it is you’re starting, there’s absolutely no reason why someone else should and this will most definitely make or break your business.
Alex Webb, Manager in Development for EMCO Corporation, Montreal
I love moving to new cities. Not just traveling, but actually moving and living there for 6+ months. Many people have expressed how ‘they could never do that’, but I adore it. I have set up in a new city many times now (6 cities in the past 4 years), and I’m actually pretty good at it – or so I thought. The one place that really threw me for a loop was St. John’s Newfoundland. In a place known for its uncommonly friendly people, I struggled to make friends and fit in, and for the first time, made me question my ability to adapt to a new city.
As I have moved, I have developed a ‘formula’ of activities to find like-minded friends and fit in fast. In Newfoundland, however, despite my tried-and-true method, it took me months to develop friendships and be included even peripherally in the tight-knit community – it devastated me that it was so hard and that nothing I did seemed to work. I learned that finding meaningful connections in a new city isn’t about a ‘formula’. Instead, I am working harder on building relationships individually, rather than in bulk. I am also spending more time maintaining my long-term and long-distance friendships since I can see now how important and valuable they really are.
Sven Jungman, Medical Doctor, Berlin
Being exactly where I wanted to be in life never felt this uncomfortable again! On an icy January morning in Bavaria, an airman standing on the rear loading ramp of a C-160 aircraft was telling a column of over 88 paratroopers to board the aeroplane now. I was one of them, I was nineteen years old, and I did not want to be there. I always dreamed of becoming an elite soldier, and the airborne infantry was the most obvious pick. There was one catch: I used to be afraid of heights. But fears can easily be ignored if distant, so I signed up. Listening to the sound of the turboprop engines at 400m altitude while wearing a camouflage uniform, kevlar helmet, and a tightly strapped T10 parachute, that fear did not feel quite so remote anymore. I hated myself for putting myself in this position. When we started to sing and shout together, I managed to create the illusion for myself that I was not terrified. Then there was silence, followed by a red light flashing and the horrible ringing of a siren. Time to jump! We rushed to the door, focused on the drills we’ve infinitely rehearsed during the previous weeks. Suddenly I felt hurled around as my body hit the air at a speed of 200-something km/h. When I realised that my parachute hadn’t opened correctly but had twisted lines, I surprisingly felt no fear anymore. All these drills allowed me to focus on taking the right steps as if ‘I’ as a person were absent. I managed to unwind the parachute (and unwantedly land among the first later on). When the parachute was open, I overlooked a gorgeous snow landscape. It was perfectly quiet. I expected the world to freeze since I just made the biggest leap of faith I could imagine. To my embarrassment it kept spinning, unphased by my achievement. In that moment I became free.
Jane Wang, Policy Intern, Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, Toronto
In my group of Social Work friends, some might describe me as the one least like a Social Worker. It’s a fair assumption considering my candid preference for social policy over clinical social work. But I wouldn’t be the policy analyst I am today if it weren’t for those two years trying to navigate an unconventional professional program (plus one year of crappy contracts) en route to public policy.
The only courses that interested me were in social justice and social policy. Despite being a clinically-focused program specializing in mental health and children services, I decided to go into social policy. Mentors and policy internships were rare, and when most of my cohort were being trained in therapies and client assessments, I struggled to figure out how my counseling skills and community development knowledge were applicable and employable in the competitive domain of public policy. But I don’t regret all that time or effort. Social Work taught me ‘soft skills’ like active and empathetic listening and relationship-building humanizes my work in policy: the experiences and opinions of communities, families, and people become a part of the process itself, rather than an afterthought.