There are three kinds of people on tube at 6am: holiday makers, people coming from low paid night shifts and people going to high paid day jobs. All of them are missing out on good sleep time, only one of them for something enjoyable – thankfully I am in that category.
This first woman, whose age remains mysterious, is casually dressed in a fleece with flat comfortable shoes and looks like she is on her way back from a cleaning job. I imagine her arriving home, where home is a room which she shares with her husband and two children, because with her wages, even working every hour God sends won’t allow them to live any better. She gets home and out of her work clothes, and lays her head on the mattress for a short moment lying toe to toe with her oldest daughter, awaiting the alarm for school, and for the next shift to begin.
Next to her on the tube, another woman has bags under her eyes to match the dark grey of her designer handbag, and is living I am sure, in quite different conditions. Maybe she has left her partner asleep again in their swanky apartment so she can get an early start. Is he is annoyed that she is not present, is he proud of her focus and ambition, or he has resigned himself to a relationship of passing ships in the night? I imagine she is on the way to a corporate job maybe in finance or the legal sector. She walks with a sense of pride into her office, knowing she has earned her right to have her name on her office door, and maybe to have her coffee just the way she likes it.
And then there is me – I wonder what they see? She looks quite basic at 6am on the tube. She has had some sleep so she doesn’t look too tired, but has a slightly serious look, resting-what-face do they call it? She looks distracted like maybe she is mentally unpacking her suitcase to check she has everything. Where is she going alone looking so young. Maybe to see family in her homeland or to use her student loan for a girls trip to Europe? Has she just ended a relationship or maybe she has just been dumped and that is why she is travelling alone, maybe to look for a holiday romance? She just looked up and smiled at me, how lovely.
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!