By: Lisa Samaraweera
Last semester I had the pleasure of being back on campus at the College of the Holy Cross. Over the past 15 years I’ve worked sporadically in the office of Career Development, covering maternity leaves and staff transitions. I help out with resumes and mock interviews, and any questions that come up for students around the job search process. I was recently reminded of a blog post I wrote when I was on campus two years ago, and so as not to break tradition, I leave you with a few parting words as I pack up my desk from this most recent visit. Hope to see you all again soon!
I need you to sit down for this, because this will be hard to hear.
YOU HAVE FAILED.
Yup, that’s right. No sugar coating. No you-kinda-sorta-didn’t-succeed. No blaming on something or someone else. You have failed, and you need to own it.
Now, I understand that you’ve grown up in a world where you have been told how wonderful you are every step of the way. I know you’ve been bubble wrapped in accolades, and achievements, and a culture obsessively focused on success. You have parents who have expected great things from you, and you feel the pressure to be incredible and infallible. The world looks to you to save the planet AND be as glossy as Kim Kardashian AND as genius as Mark Zuckerberg. It’s very likely that you don’t talk about the word “failure” at all – and that, my friends, is what will hold you back as you make your way into the real world.
Learning how to fail, and come out in one piece, is what makes us human. Feeling crushing defeat, experiencing gut twisting regret, losing something or someone you love to a bad decision – these are the moments where we learn who we are. Where we discover what we are made of. These failures teach us how to be better and stronger – and without these failures we NEVER grow.
As you apply for internships and jobs, someone is going to inevitably ask you: “Tell me about a time that you failed.” This will make your skin crawl, and your stomach twist into knots. I know this because I’ve watched as many of you struggle through mock interviews, uncomfortable with the idea of sharing the parts of you that are vulnerable. You wonder what people will think of you if you tell them the truth. You search your brain for an example that showcases your strength, rather than a weakness (because this is what you’ve heard is the “right” way to answer). However, what any good interviewer is hoping to hear is not how indestructible and perfect you are as you maintain an unwavering smile. They hope to hear an answer that is authentic, accountable, and transformative. They want to know about your journey, and how you can fail and still work towards your goals. They want to know that you can fail and laugh as you brush off the debris.
Regardless of what you’ve been to told, I need you know this – It’s ok to have an epic fail every once in a while. If you’re failing, you’re learning. If you’re failing, you’re becoming a better person. When you’re asked about a time that you failed, DON’T second guess yourself. Spill the beans about dropping out of organic chem, or not making the team, or getting kicked out of a club, or disappointing your parents with a really dumb decision. DON’T tell the story and apologize for it, or point the blame to someone else. DO tell the story and share how you grew and what in your life has changed as a result.
A famous yoga guru once said, “To fall out of the posture is human, getting back into the posture is to be a yogi.” Failure itself never defines us – it’s how we live after the failure that makes us who we are.
So, go ahead and fail. Own it like a boss. Tell anyone who will listen. Your success depends on it.