When I was a freshman in college, I failed a pass-fail final examination. But it wasn’t just any regular exam. I was a musical theater major fresh out of high school and this was a performance exam.
The thrill of prior academic achievement awards was still fresh. I had been accepted at the conservatory of my dreams and was undoubtedly bound for Broadway. Nothing was going to bring me and my perfectionist self down.
And then I failed my board, the final performance given at the culmination of each semester when students are reviewed.
I was certain I had done well, mainly because up to that point that had been my track record. So when I failed, the blow was like unlike anything I’d ever experienced and it rattled me to the core.
I consider this experience a defining moment in my life. Failing my board changed and strengthened me in ways I’m still discovering. It shook me hard and woke me up to weaknesses I didn’t even know I had.
The shame I felt for failing the exam has since turned into gratitude and happiness for the growth I experienced as a result.
Rejection and failure of any sort is a fork in the road: You are presented with two options: You can either shrink back or grow.
Many people understand (theoretically at least) that failure is an opportunity for growth, but few truly grasp how to take full advantage. Owning up to my failure was an empowering thing and it can be the same for others, too.
Here are a few tips for taking the road forward after a less than ideal turn of events:
When you're told that what you've presented or offered isn’t good enough, it’s easy to line up your defenses and equip yourself with all the reasons that you are, in fact, good enough.
While I don’t discount the merits of being self-confident, this doesn’t mean you can’t be open to improvement.
That freshman year after spending my entire winter break trying to figure out what went wrong during my board, I decided to go right to the source. I went directly to the head of the department, requested a meeting and asked for feedback.
Should you find yourself on a similar quest, calm your defenses and tune in. Consider what the other person is saying. Do your best to pay attention at first without passing judgment.
Take a step back and listen. What is it about your work that he or she didn’t like? What weaknesses were detected?
While understanding that the feedback you’ve received is just an opinion, consider the parts that resonate.
Hearing the truth about something you're trying to hide or cover up might throw you off balance the most. Do not walk backward: Walk forward into the feedback, even if it stings.
Sort through the rejection. What does the person offering feedback do especially well? What are his or her strengths? Focus on the feedback given for those areas. Draw upon the expertise of others.
Recently I designed a logo for my company, only to have a highly skilled designer tell me it looked juvenile. Initially, I was upset and frustrated. I had spent so much time and energy in coming up with that design.
But when I was honest with myself, I realized I wasn’t upset with him. I was upset that I had to backtrack and reassess things in order to create the best possible product. I needed to hear his feedback, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
After drawing on feedback of others, sometimes it's necessary to consider making adjustments.
Based on your analysis, figure out the adjustments you can make to your performance, your company or product. Mull the best ways to go about making these changes. Set goals. Perhaps you lack organizational skills. Start with small changes, maybe keeping a to-do list or a filing system.
Weigh where you hope to be in a month or two or a year. Maybe your company’s website is less user-friendly than you’d like. Set up meetings with new web designers. Seek recommendations and set up consultations.
Be fully committed to taking the road forward. Own the changes that need to be made and hold yourself accountable to seeing them through. Be grateful that you were given the opportunity to explore potential pitfalls and strengthen yourself or your product. Be appreciative that someone took the time to shake things up.
Schedule weekly or monthly check-ins in order to hold yourself accountable for accomplishing the needed changes and measure your progress in meeting the goals you’ve set. Are you keeping up with them?
Assess the effect of the changes on the overall state of your performance or product.
Consider the following: Have the changes hurt more than they’ve helped? Or have the changes been for the better? Have sales increased? Has work become easier? Perhaps you’ve noticed changes inside yourself. Keep track of the effects of these changes to determine where you or your company needs to go next.