I have no idea what word you are thinking of, but my favorite four letter “F” word fail. Although, the other four letter word is probably a close second! Why on earth would I want to write about failure? A wise friend of mine gave a talk about failure, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about all of my failures in life. Thinking about my failures could lead to depression and negative feelings. However, I look at my failures through a different lens. The beauty of my failures is that after the dust settles and I lick my wounds, I realize two things:
- I was trying something out of my comfort zone and usually following my heart.
- I have learned valuable lessons from my failures, I have grown the most through my failures, not my successes.
Failure gets a bad reputation. For some reason, some people are embarrassed, feel ashamed, and worry about being judged when things don’t go as planned. But I will let you in on a little secret, everyone fails.
I am going to share with you a professional fail of mine. Then I am going to give you a few tips to navigate the rough waters of failure and hopefully change your perspective the next time you fail.
I have been a professional in the fire service for nearly 20 years, but I have been a part of the fire service my entire life. My dad volunteered as a firefighter for over 30 years, and a significant amount of my childhood memories connects to the firehouse. He responded to the calls for service from our home, so his bunker boots were in the kitchen (NOT how we do things today). He also worked a full-time job as a machinist. After his shift at his paying job was over, he came home changed and went to the firehouse.
Essentially he had two full-time jobs, and my mom was at home with my brothers and me. I spent many weekends climbing on the fire trucks. We were at the fire station most holidays with an open invitation to all the ambulance crews who were working. And to the firefighters who didn’t have family in town.
In August of 1993, Pope John Paul II came to the Denver area for world youth day. There were thousands of kids who were dehydrated, and a call for help went out to all Denver metro fire departments for help. I had just completed my first responder certification and responded with some of the guys from my dad’s department.
I knew I was going to be a firefighter and serve my community.
24 years later I still remember how amazing it felt to help people. All I did was hand out popsicles and calm down hysterical teen girls, but I made a small difference. And I was hooked! I decided that I was going to help people. Eventually, I decided on firefighting and began my journey to become a professional firefighter.
I became a professional firefighter at the age of 23; I won the lottery. My professional life took off. I quickly promoted up the ranks and was making a name for myself in the organization. My crews were incredible, and my mentors were terrific.
I developed and implemented multiple programs, reached the community, and introduced social media to the organization. I completed my bachelor’s degree in public administration and entered the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) program at the National Fire Academy. I was well on my way to becoming a Battalion Chief (BC), which is one of my career goals.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
The Universe had another plan for me
The older I get, the more I believe that timing plays a huge role in life. Timing is ultimately out of our control. Regardless of how prepared you may be for something, the timing might not be right. Timing is applicable in just about every scenario in life.
I was ready and prepared for the test. Looking back, a little overconfident. The test included three interviews and a writing assignment. I used my affirmations, I visualized, and I practiced. The first interview was with the Deputy Chiefs, after the first 10 minutes, a couple of them got on their cell phones. Not a good sign. When I walked out of the room, I was disappointed, but I had to get to the next panel. This group was made up of fire service leaders from other organizations and representatives from public safety within the city.
This panel was made up of fire service leaders from other organizations and representatives from public safety within the city. The interview went much better, I felt much better and was ready to go into my final interview with the Chief with my head held high. And since this is a post about failure, you can imagine how the final interview went.
When the list for battalion chief was released, I WAS LAST.
Crushed. I can’t recall finishing last in anything, and not when it came to my professional life. I was the only female, and there my name was last on the list. No longer was I a rising star, I was a failure. And the entire department knew that I had failed. When the list came out, I was at work, and my crew was incredibly supportive and kind. I pretended I was okay and played it off that I wasn’t surprised. After a few days of processing, cursing, and some retail therapy, I realized that ultimately I had no control over the results. And although I was last, I showed up, and I tried. I’m sure many people in organizations never show up because the fear of failure keeps them in their current spot.
The universe does take care of individuals. The last 15 months have been an incredible period of humility, growth, and learning more about me. The time I have spent working on myself will make me a better chief when I get the opportunity (yes, I do believe I will be a chief one day).
What can you do next time you fail?
- Accept it, own it, embrace it, and feel it! Remember, everyone fails. When things don’t go as planned, I believe it is because the timing isn’t quite right. I initially wanted to blame everyone else for the results. But what good would that do? I realized that all the complaining in the world wasn’t going to change the outcome. So I sat with it for a while, I felt the emotions, and then I moved on.
- Find out how you can improve. I met with the people on the panels to see what I did well and how can I grow for next time. Reaching out was not easy, but the feedback is a gift. How do you know what you can do better next time if you don’t ask?
- Don’t get bitter. I had a choice to make, learn the lesson or become angry. How many people do you know become angry? No one wants to work with a bitter Betty. Plus that toxic attitude isn’t healthy and not helpful for moving forward.
Here is my challenge to you
Change the conversation about failure. Embrace the fact that there are times you will not be successful. Failure will happen professionally and personally, it’s how you manage your response to the failure that makes the difference.