Dear Sista Friend,
I’ve failed a lot. Sometimes they were huge, horrible mistakes that affected my personal life. Other times they were just “bumps” in the professional road. I have been the brunt of excoriating humiliation and embarrassed in front of other co-workers. I have also been called out in meetings and in conference rooms and forced to have my friends privately address my public actions.
I’m guilty of it all! (Thankfully, none of this is recent.) I’ve learned a few lessons though, mainly in the importance of resilience and killing your ego.
Resilience is a trait that is developed over time. It isn’t something that you are born with. Understand that resilience is developed through failure. You have to learn how to bounce back. You can’t learn how to do that until you actually go through something hard and are forced to pick yourself up and move forward.
Many of my friends are the first in their family to gain some measure of success….they are the first to graduate from college, the first to garner substantial salaries (in some cases more than both of their parents). Some of us are expected to care for our families or support our younger siblings; even if that means providing towards their college tuition or sliding them “spending money.” With this new success comes greater responsibility. As we grow older, our responsibilities change and we must establish a degree of resilience and strength to continue growing.
Fear of failure can also cause us (particularly people of color) to suffer silently through what has been dubbed as the “imposter syndrome”– the fear of being exposed as a fraud because we don’t believe that our merits and qualifications have allowed us to achieve a certain level of success. We wonder if we’re filling the firm’s “quota” or if we deserve to be in the room. Spoiler alert: you do! You earned your seat at the table! Our mistakes and failures tend to add to the feeling of “otherness.” You messed up and now you know they’ll call you out on your “free ride.”
The pressure of being fresh out of college in your early 20s, can be terribly draining. Because of this, you can and will fail at something. You’ll forget a number in your excel model, you will be late in completing assignments, you’ll make a mistake in your boss’s presentation or you will forget to call home. You will drop the ball on something at some point. There is a lesson here…we are not invincible, but we are resilient.
Know that everyone is prone to making mistakes, no matter what their title is or the amount of experience they have. How can we learn if we do not make mistakes?
These failures should force us to use our time wisely. Robert Greene calls it either “dead time or alive time.” When you fail, you should take the time to dissect the mistake, reflect and use it to make you better, rather than wallow and ruminating in it. Take the time to use the mistake as fuel to keep you alive and push you forward. Create a circle of trustworthy peers who will not only hold you accountable, but affirm your potential.
Failure isn’t the worst thing. In fact, I’ve learned that reaching rock bottom is sometimes the earth-quaking change that we need.
Nothing is promised. I work really hard and with such urgency because I know that nothing is promised. I’m going to give it my all – because it could all be gone. Failures are simply a part of the entire process — how we respond to roadblocks determine the kind of person we are and the future successes we’ll see.
Stay calm, stay reflective, and keep pushing.
Your Sista Friend,