The other day, I saw this amazing video from Business Insider with the founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely, on failure (check it out here). She talked about how as a child she was taught to celebrate failure on a weekly basis. Her father would literally high-five her if she messed up on something. What that did for her was redefine what failure meant. In her eyes the failure was in not trying.
How BEAUTIFUL is that?! So often, we are afraid to try something because of what the outcome might be as opposed to gaining experience and lessons learned. Watching the video mentioned above really reminded me how we look at failure (much like anything else) is a choice. In life, we all have several defining moments. Ones that forever change the trajectory of where we’re going. One of the first ones for me was failing… miserably, and it made me reflect on the lessons I learned and how my life might be different had I not learned those lessons and overcome the moment.
Up until high school, I was a good student. Honestly, I didn’t really try very hard - and I got good grades. They weren’t great, but they were good. So, when I got to University of California, Irvine (UCI) as a bio major, I thought no problem! I was unbelievably stubborn - what 18 year old doesn’t know everything, right?! I refused to live on campus, and instead chose to drive from Hacienda Heights to Irvine everyday (about 35 miles each way). I would take my classes during the day, and then drive to my job in Whittier because I had to make my car payment. I’d help close the store and get off at about 9:30 or 10 and worked full shifts on weekends. I pretty much made no time to study (again, a choice). Well, as you can guess I didn’t do so well. In fact, I was academically disqualified at the end of my freshmen year. My parents saw it coming a mile away. They advised me to make some changes, but I didn’t really listen. I didn’t really listen to anyone. I thought I knew best. They eventually stepped aside and let me learn the lesson, which I’m grateful for.
When you get kicked out, they meet with you in person to tell you. I was devastated, but really only had myself to blame. I asked when I could reapply and they told me that I had to wait at least a year or two (even at the J.C. level) to make sure that I was serious about school. I come from a family of successful individuals. My mom was an educator - a principal at all levels and then worked as a director at the district level. My paternal grandma had a bachelors in nursing, two masters degrees, and a Phd, along with a very successful career. My dad continues to have an excellent career in the car industry developing curriculum on teaching people how to fix cars, and always problem solving. Expectations were high, maybe even self-imposed.
I’ll never forget the drive from UCI back home, where I had to tell my parents. I cried the whole way home. I was ready for them to be so disappointed, to yell, to punish me… I had already began to punish myself for failing. When I told my parents, it was like they already knew. There was no “I told you so” or any judgment (which they totally could have done). They weren’t ashamed of me, or anything like that. There was this unbelievable calm in them that soon transferred to me. I don’t know if they fully realize it, but their reaction to my failure was a defining moment. At the moment I told them, I learned that their love for me was unconditional - they would love me no matter what. They might not agree with me, but they will love me. I learned that failure wasn’t the end of the world. Yes, this was a big screw-up! Life or career ending? NO!
This was truly one of THE MOST humbling experiences in my life. There are so many lessons I learned from this experience. When you’re faced with failure at this level - big and life changing - you essentially have two choices. You can let it define you for the rest of your life and never try again, or you can get your butt up off the ground, start overcoming what transpired, and figure out what’s next. Those were the exact words that came out of my parents’ mouths when I told them… “What’s next?” Again, this triggered something else in me - I started planning what was next even with fresh tears still streaming down my face. The next week, I had a meeting with the dean at a local J.C. and begged him to let me in. I told him the worst thing that I could do was not start school again right away. I was brutally honest with him about how I had messed up. I took responsibility for what happened. He had a heart, and he let me in. I wound up making the deans list and transferring to Cal State Fullerton a few years later. It took me an extra couple of years, but I finished. I already had a successful career before finishing school, and stayed in the corporate world for more than 10 years. I then left the corporate world and decided to start my own business as a life coach… but, that’s another Oprah (story).
The video I mentioned brought-up a lot of stuff for me. When I look at failure it’s not all in the outcome. Sure, we want to be able to measure how we did, but that is not everything to me. I look at what I want my daughter to learn about failure, and I encourage you to think about failure in the context you want your loved ones to see it (especially your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews). For me, it’s more about the experience. I want my daughter to try the things that take her outside her comfort zone, that make her grow, that she’s not the best at. I want her to know how to win AND lose with grace. I want her to learn from her experiences and know that my love for her is forever unconditional. Every experience can teach us something, and it is not something to fear.
The other night, I decided to explain my definition of failure to my daughter. I told her that I wanted to hear all about the things she tried no matter how they turned out. She got this big smile on her face and said, “I got it, mama” and started telling me about something she tried. She is not afraid to tell me about something that went wrong - she feels my love for her, and that’s the way I intend to keep it.
I encourage you to reflect on how you want to view and experience failure. This may also involve redefining success for yourself. Remember, our children are watching us more than they are listening to us. Sending love and light to you on your journey!
Video Credit - Business Insider Video - https://www.facebook.com/businessinsider/videos/10153737987304071