There’s nothing like failure to shock the system. I came out of university having done quite well and entered into the world of full time professional work full of optimism. I had landed a dream placement which would allow me to develop an understanding of a key influential organisation alongside developing professional skills. The problem was that I was completely unprepared for the job role (personal organisation does not equal professional administrative ability), for the pressure of the environment (I learned the hard way that I am not good under stress) and the expectations of that kind of office (I had to use Debrett’s etiquette guide more often than most – google it).
When I was eventually given truthful feedback it was soul-crushing. I had been trying my best but still wasn’t up to the standard. I am used to doing a good job and it was completely unfamiliar for me to find myself unable to do what I was asked. I discovered email chains discussing whether to get rid of me, I walked into rooms that fell immediately silent indicating that I had been the topic of conversation. As a first taste of the real professional workplace it was horrific.
I remember being on the way to work and the feelings of anxiety would creep up my throat as I got closer. I would get into the office early and have to pray and then talk to myself in the mirror reminding myself that I was more than what they thought of me. I would worry about work all Sunday evening. But I couldn’t let myself quit. I had to see it through and that was the win for me. I took on this job for the amazing experience and it did help me grow in some positive ways but I knew I had failed in their eyes and they regretted taking me on. It was a shock to the system but after I recovered it left me with some good lessons.
- Failure is simply about not doing well at something – and that is common for every single person. The person you see succeeding now has failed before, if not at this then at something else. There are things you succeed at that they would completely fail to achieve. You are not a failure, you just may not be good at this one thing and that’s ok.
- Failure is natural if you have the courage to take risks and try new things. Sometimes it indicates you need to work harder and other times that you need to work at something else. I was hard working but not effective so I changed trajectory. I gave myself time to recover and then took another chance on something new. I took a job with a friend which allowed me to rebuild my confidence and remember all the things I was good at. I needed to shake off all the negative words and expectations, I was literally told I was ‘good for nothing’ one day. It was obviously not true, they just hadn’t seen me in my element. I kept taking better risks after this and they have definitely paid off.
- You need the support of others to help you succeed, so ask for help and make sure you get feedback. I had a lovely line manager but she was more concerned about being nice than helping me develop, and in the end her reluctance to have the tough conversations meant I didn’t have the chance to grow. Honest feedback is a mirror that helps you improve and you must have it particularly when starting out, but also throughout your working life. There was a woman in my floor who took me under her wing and helped me survive with my self-worth intact. She not only helped me with practicalities but always encouraged me to keep my head up and my eyes on the future. She was to me, a guardian angel.
My journey has not been free from obstacles and no one’s is – but I am glad to have been able to overcome them and keep going. It’s resilience (the ability to come back from a setback) that makes the difference between those who arrive at a better future and those who don’t. So keep going!