Failures are stepping stones, there is no win or lose, only win or learn.
This is how my favorite podcast host Kevin Kruse breaks the ice when he asks his guests to share a time when they failed. They all have a compelling, insightful story to tell. What would I say? I didn’t have much experience with failure and practically none in my professional career. All of that changed when I lost my job.
In the end it truly was a stepping stone but getting there was much harder than I had expected. In theory I was quite knowledgeable about dealing with failure – I read personal stories and books, listened to TED talks and podcasts, attended a few workshops and events such as Fuckup Nights but none of this prepared me for the emotional roller-coaster.
Most of the advice breaks down to 3 simple steps:
Learn the lesson.
Simple but not easy. For a long time I got stuck on the ‘move on’ part. It took me several months to realize that I couldn’t move on until I fully embrace my failure. Accepting it wasn’t enough – I needed to understand what was happening on the emotional level. Why was I still feeling hurt and sad?
One day I came across a TED talk about heartbreak and it hit me – I felt as if I got dumped, I was ‘heartbroken’. Like Kathy, the girl from the TED talk story, who thought her boyfriend was going to propose when he made reservation at their favorite romantic restaurant; I thought I would get a new contract when my old one was coming to an end and my boss invited me to a video-conference with HR. But Kathy didn’t get an engagement ring, her boyfriend broke up with her that night. And me? Instead of a new contract I heard the phrase “We will be hiring someone else.”
In my career I like to follow this rule: Do what you love, love what you do. And I did love my job… In his TED talk psychologist Guy Winch explains: “For example, we know from studies of heartbroken people that having a clear understanding of why the relationship ended is really important for our ability to move on. Yet time and again, when we are offered a simple and honest explanation like the one Rich offered Kathy, we reject it. Heartbreak creates such dramatic emotional pain, our mind tells us the cause must be equally dramatic. And that gut instinct is so powerful, it can make even the most reasonable and measured of us come up with mysteries and conspiracy theories where none exist.”
It may seem far-fetched to compare heartbreak with losing one’s job but for me it was an important part of the embracing process. It gave the answer to why I was feeling hurt and sad after all these months and it provided me with the tools to move on. I had recovered from failed relationships in the past and I knew I would recover from this one too. Only this time there were no lists of ‘all the bad things’, no ‘rebound job’ to make the other one jealous 😉 … There was something else in store for me. One Little Soul decided this was the right time to join us and showed me that this failure was a blessing, a true gift in disguise.