7 September 2017

Trying to Embrace "Flearning" AKA Learning Through Failure

Around October last year I applied to participate in a leadership program offered by my university. It involved an all-expenses paid trip to London to meet university alumni who are now leaders in their field.

I made it through the first round of judging, based on my submission of a quirky 30-second clip. The second stage involved a face-to-face meeting with three university representatives. I had them laughing and nodding in unison each time I spoke. I walked out of the interview and called Mum exclaiming, “nailed it!”

The video I submitted

Weeks later, I got a call from a lady advising I was unsuccessful. I was attending a high-energy workshop at the time. I worried about re-entering the room in case someone noticed my shift in mood. Before I even got off the phone, I was wishing I’d let it go to voicemail. Like a moment out of Sliding Doors, I made a split decision to ask her why I wasn’t selected before she could say goodbye. My voice sounded so weak. I hoped to regain it while she answered, but knew I’d probably end up feeling more hurt. The lady was direct with her response, explaining the panel was concerned by my lack of clarity regarding what I wanted to get out of the experience. I thought my answers demonstrated open-mindedness, but instead they were perceived as uncertainty. I wished I could have my time again. That day I came up with 100 alternative answers I could have given.

I had a Gwyneth Paltrow moment, but without the whispy do.

Last month I submitted an application to participate in a 6-week youth leadership program hosted on a Japanese ship, with 150 others attending from across the globe. I spent hours writing my application. I think I read it around 10 times before emailing it off. A few weeks later, I was told I had made it to the phone interview round. Up until then, I’d hardly thought about my failed attempt the previous year. The lady’s feedback replayed in my mind and riled my nerves. Hours before the interview, I hand-wrote my goals and 5-year plan, then propped the paper against my computer screen. There was no way I was going to have them doubt me this time.
Not the actual ship, but you get the picture ;)

Once more, the interview was comprised of three panel members. It lasted no more than 10-minutes. Two of the members were Japanese, so I wasn’t sure how my larrikin remarks would be received. I could hear them smiling through the phone as they politely said “yes” after I finished each sentence. I hung up the phone and thought to myself, “did I nail it?” I felt good about how things went, but didn’t trust my judgement. I didn’t call anyone to report how it went.

Today (one day later) I received a phone call from a lady advising I was one of 11 selected to board the ship in January 2018. I giggled into the phone like a school girl, which may have had the lady question whether they made the right choice. She said they were impressed with how I conducted myself during the interview, and believed I’d positively represent Australia.  

So, there you have it. Now you know I am a closet failure. I often wonder how only sharing our wins in life impacts on young people. It’s pretty messed up to portray life as a succession of achievements. Hell, I’ve spent countless hours writing emails gone unanswered. I’ve shared my ideas and given handouts in good faith they might be appreciated, but haven’t gotten so much as a thank you. People wonder how I get the opportunities I do, often remarking how “lucky” I am; that’s because they don’t hear about the things that didn’t work out, or the times I was “down on my luck.”

Next time you’re presented with a Sliding Doors moment like mine, ask for feedback, because you won’t know what it’s worth until you’re back fighting on your feet.

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