How To Be OK with Failing
On social media, we tend to only show us at our best but in reality, we rarely go from accomplishment to accomplishment without a stumble along the way
I tried something out of my comfort zone and it didn’t go as I planned! Here are the six mindsets that helped me survive it.
We always talk about success, but where’s the conversation about failing? Well, it’s hidden because the thinking is if you publicise the fact that you’ve failed (like every other human in the world!), then people will doubt your competency, question how good you truly are, and stop hiring you. The reality is though, if you have been alive long enough, you will have stories of failure, and last week, I added another story to the list.
Last week, I hosted my first event. I’m very used to being interviewed but being the interviewer is a whole different ball game. I’m very well versed in being interviewed, in fact, I am so well versed in it that it’s my favourite part of the job. Asking questions though is hard , even if you have prepared the questions. You have to manage the time, make sure each of the four people on the panel get equal time and then the hardest bit, be able to segway between people who work in completely different industries as if it’s a natural change in conversation. Needless to say, it was far from natural and I wasn’t exactly proud of the job I did.
If I’m honest though, I don’t even like calling it failure. I walked away knowing I hadn’t done my best but because I’ve trained that compassionate voice in my head to be louder than the critical one, I also walked away telling myself ‘That was the first time you did that, of course, you weren’t going to be perfect!’.
Growing that compassionate part of myself took time and effort and if I reverse engineer how I ended up being able to be kind to myself in the face of ‘failure’ (for lack of a better word), it comes down to six thoughts.
Say yes, figure it out later.
The only way I ended up in this position is because I took a risk. What’s worse than failing is not trying at all. When I first began as a public speaker (and as a life coach actually!), everything was scary so if I let that fear determine my decisions I would have never made a penny. From the outset then, I made myself a rule. I could only say no if I wasn’t free or I didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t allowed to say no because I was scared. It was a spur of the moment thought when I made this rule but then it was tested when the highest echelon of the public speaking world, TedX came knocking. I was only two years into public speaking so I wanted to say no. They said I needed one clear message and I didn’t know what mine was. I told them that I had 10 but picking one felt impossible. But I’d made the rule. So I said yes and told myself I would figure it out later. And I did, but only because I had to. You have to put your fear of failure lower than your fear of regret and whilst the prospect of bombing on stage at my Ted talk was awful, the thought that they would never ask again and that I missed my one and only chance was worse.
I don’t embarrass easily
No matter how many talks you have done, every time you get on stage, you have the risk of bombing. I bombed my first talk four years into public speaking. I actually said the words “I don’t know what to say” on stage. I could list a million reasons why I bombed that one, unlike every other whether it was the fact that they were running late and I had scheduled my first celebrity interview directly after it or even the fact I hadn’t eaten that day and the talk was at 2pm but standing on that stage, with the worst fear of a public speaker happening right before my very eyes, was actually empowering. People stared at me in shock, some with jaws open and I won’t ever forget that feeling. But then I remembered, this was a corporate talk that had been scheduled into their lunch hour for their wellness day. What’s the worse that’s going to happen? They are going to walk away and say to their colleagues ‘God, that was awful!’? They won’t hire me again? I very rarely do repeat talks for clients anyway. At the very least, maybe it made someone in the audience feel better about their day or gave them a chuckle. In a week, they won’t remember it. The longest they will remember it is likely until that evening when they go home and someone asks how their day was and they will respond ‘we had this awful talk by some woman’. People are not as conscious about you as you think, most won’t remember my name and we all have a most embarrassing moment - so I had just had mine!
You have (another) job to do!
Why I had nothing to say halfway through the talk was because I was so conscious of the time that I sped through all my content for a 60 minute speech in half the time. My mind was focused on the celebrity interview I had after and it was my first time doing one - unlike talks where I’d done at least a hundred! The nerves from that displaced on the talk, picturing me losing the opportunity by being late and the worst part was I knew when it was scheduled that it was tight - a lesson in advocating for yourself when your gut is telling you no! What happened after that talk is I cried on the tube on the way to the interview, wiped away my tears, and did a brilliant interview. The fact I was able to recover so quickly and not let it affect my next job taught me that I’m more resilient than I thought and if the worst thing that could happen on stage has already happened - well there isn’t much to fear now!
Every expert was once a beginner
Back to the talk that inspired this post though, you have to start somewhere. Whilst I had underestimated the difference between being the interviewer and the interviewee, they are different skills. Being interviewed is so natural to me that one time when BBC called me to appear on World News in an hour, I wasn’t even nervous. I also didn’t mention to them I was still in bed. I just told them to send me a car and popped on set as if I was having lunch with a good pal. I needed to remember though that I didn’t get there overnight. It took time, experience, and practice to be good at it! And therefore I needed to give myself the grace to be a beginner. There is a brilliant quote I once heard that says "If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late” - this is the same ethos. You can only get better by doing and as I always say ‘done is better than perfect’. We can’t expect to be perfect when we are still a beginner. And if you are comparing yourself to experienced professionals, you won’t want to try again.
You are still getting paid
One of the aspects that used to make the nerves worse than they needed to be was focusing on how much I was getting paid. Since the fear of public speaking is higher than the fear of death itself, speakers get paid a lot - and that can add more pressure to feel like you need to deliver the value equivalent to the financial sum. Until one day, I realised, you still get paid no matter how well you do. It’s genuinely luck of the draw whether you get me on my best day or my worst and what I’ve realised is that it’s not predictable. My worst talk came four years into my speaking career, AFTER my TedX talk. If there was any logic or rationale to it, the talk I bombed should have been in my early days or on the day when the stakes were the highest but the time it happens doesn’t always make sense because there are too many factors at play from what’s going on in the world to whether the venue has a clock so I can see how I am pacing myself. Once you recognise that the success of your last talk doesn’t predict the success of your next, you also realise that the failure of your last talk also doesn’t determine whether your losing streak will continue.
You at your worst is still better than some at their best
This is going to sound pretty arrogant but it’s what I believe, whether it’s true or not. If you have followed me long enough, you know I believe that ‘useful’ beliefs are more important than ‘accurate’ beliefs. Do I know that me at my worst is better than some at their best? No, but I also don’t know it’s not true. The fact is there are always people who are going to be better than you and there are always going to be people worse than you but what I am confident in is that what I say is important. I get hired to speak because I have something to say and therefore even if I say it in an ineloquent way, it still has substance. I know it’s rare to hear a woman stand behind her skills and ability but here’s a stat to piss you off. Women apply to jobs when they meet 100% of the criteria, men apply when they meet 60% of the criteria therefore when I say yes, I’m likely already overqualified.
Ultimately, you will never feel ready to try something new and I truly believe the people who succeed are the ones who jump when they aren’t ready. The only part I could control is how much work I put into it and I did that. I did way more preparation than I have ever done for even a keynote and then I gave it up to the universe and let the chips fall where they may. I wasn’t bad, but I also wasn’t my best. I was just a little clunky … and that’s OK because I was doing something relatively new.
In life coaching, there is your comfort zone, and then slightly outside it sits the stretch zone. We want to be popping into this zone once in a while. Go a little too far though and that’s straight panic and will force you to want to live in your comfort zone forever! All I was doing was being in my stretch zone, and just like a stretch after a physical workout, that can be a little uncomfortable. Simultaneously interviewing four people at the same time definitely stretched me. I could feel my brain ache afterward by the new challenge and with a new challenge comes a spike in adrenaline and then the crash. Adrenaline crashes can last up to 72 hours so I took the fact that I felt shattered afterward as a good sign.
We live in a culture that trumpets that we should always be our best but that’s simply not realistic. If you do enough interviews, you will have your best interview and you will also have your worst interview. There will be good ones and bad ones. I’d even go as far as to say, you’ve not done enough if there’s not one you’ve truly bombed. And when I’ve done 100 interviews, I won’t remember this one. One day, I will roll out of bed to fill a last minute interviewer slot and I will dream of the day it was still new, exciting, and a challenge.
So I’m going to relish the challenge, be proud of saying yes and trying my hand at something I’m not naturally good at, and then welcome more opportunities like this one.
Lots of love,
Paid subscribers, look forward to a letter on Monday all about my experience of mean girls in the influencer community!
Have you tried something new lately? Do you share any of these mindsets? Or is your fear of success greater than your fear of failure? Let me know in the comments!