Dealing with Failure
May 22nd, 2014
Today’s guest post comes from Ben Magee, the Wake Forest Fellow who has worked with the Office of Personal and Career Development this past year. I asked him to share things he has learned in his first year after college for the benefit of our current graduating seniors and their parents.
Social commentators often talk about how this generation of students has grown up receiving gold stars and trophies for everything – even when their little league teams had losing seasons. The truth is that many of them may have never encountered “real” failure until after college. Personally speaking, I hate failure. Most people do. I’ve come to realize; however, that dealing with failure is an invaluable skill and important for achieving success.
While in high school, I learned a great deal when competing in front of crowds of over 3,000 people. However, the failures I experienced still felt avoidable. This philosophy transferred to all areas of my life and my goal was to learn in order to avoid mistakes. I focused my energy on reading “self-help” books and sought the advice of folks who were older and wiser. I thought I could learn from their failures and avoid having to experience it on my own. I see now that much of my drive for personal development through reading books and asking questions (while it still has many benefits) was a cop-out to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. What is clear now is that the office I work in does not teach personal and career development so students can avoid mistakes, but rather it teaches how students to expand their horizons and experiences, to take risks, and learn from those experiences to continue to dare greatly in our endeavors.
What I have learned this year as a Fellow in the OPCD is how valuable failure is for growth and success. For instance, under a tight deadline, I was asked to put together a budget proposal for a potential academic minor. I was distressed because I didn’t have a clue how to create a budget or all the pricing schemes and departmental rules. I didn’t know how to create the correct model in Excel. I reached out to get clarity and help on it, but not early enough to get full instructions. In the end, I delivered something that was not useful.
As much as I hated turning in a useless budget, I did learn a great deal about the topic in a short amount of time. I received specific feedback on how to improve. Further, I learned that sometimes there aren’t clear “right ways” for completing a task. I realized that others expected me to look beyond my inexperience and reach out to co-workers for guidance. Asking questions and turning in an early draft to receive feedback was a very important lesson.
As helpful as books and trainings are, they can’t replace experience. The valuable knowledge gained from class or books cannot be fully understood without the practical real-life application. There are many successful people who never read any “self-help” books. They just lived their life and actively sought to improve each day – with an attitude of humility and a willingness to learn. That said, I encourage us all to take risks and not fear failure. It’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them quickly. I firmly believe we’re better people because of them.