Stop Forcing. Start Winning.
Disappointment. Everyone has suffered from it. It sweeps in like a tide, ebbing and flowing, leaving us a little unbalanced and beaten from its swift and mighty force. The feeling of disappointment sucks and can derail a person very quickly.
I think the worst disappointment came to me about twenty years ago when I first graduated college as an undergrad. I had this idea that I wanted to go to grad school and pursue a Ph.D. so that I could teach communications in college.
A professor impressed this idea in my brain. And I’ve always been that kind of person who wants to please others and prove to them and myself that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. So, I began visiting universities up and down the east coast of the United States, determining if their program was one I wanted to enroll in.
I narrowed it down to a few in Florida. I feel in love with the warmth and the tropical vibe. And the fact that I could ride my bike to classes, even in the middle of January if I wanted.
Such great reasons to enroll in a demanding masters and doctoral program, of course. Hahahaha
Anyway, right before I started my research into schools, I started working at a financial firm, which if you’ve listened to my other podcasts you know I hated.
This disdain towards my job only fed my hunger to ace the Graduate Record Exam so that I could earn a full ride waiver on my tuition to one of these universities through a very competitive teacher assistance program.
My GRE’s had to be superb. Well, never deterred from a good challenge, and having just graduated Summa cum lade from Rhode Island, I thought piece of cake. My future is about to unfold. Without giving anything else a thought, I put everything into this pathway towards a Ph.D.
I committed to studying for the GRE’s four hours every single day before going to my full time job. I studied four hours seven days a week for six months straight. I took those practice tests over and over again, and determined to raise my score, which wasn’t great. Frustrated, I kept at it, insistent that I would ace this exam no matter what it took. I set a goal and I was going to get there dammit.
NO matter what the cost. So, as the exam date neared, I upped my studying time to six hours a day. Nothing was going to keep me from my goal. So, let’s fast forward to exam day. My stomach was in knots. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep the night before.
I drove to the exam location with the weight of my hefty goal on my shoulders. It sucked the air right out of my lungs. I walked into that exam room nauseous and dizzy, trembling like I was facing a death squad.
Well, the exam began whether I was ready for it or not. It was timed. That timer sat in the tip right hand corner of that screen and tortured me. I raced against the minutes, attempting to clear my mind so I could think. The past six months of my life and al the effort I put into it, all the sacrifices to my spouse, to my family, to my health, to my freaking life came crashing down on me.
I panicked. I sat there and trembled, and pretty much guessed my way through the entire exam. My mind couldn’t think strategically, methodically, productively. It couldn’t think at all. I had pressured myself to the point of a breakdown in that room. I failed the exam miserably. Not just by small standards. Oh no, absolutely miserably. I would have to wait another three months to take the exam again.
My goal of getting a teacher assistantship, actually even getting accepted into a graduate program died right there in that bright room with its unforgiving fluorescent lights and deafening hum. I felt like the world’s biggest failure. I was so embarrassed. I was so disappointed. I wanted to prove I could set my mind to anything and do it. And, I then I failed. What would I say to my spouse, my parents, and my friends? What would they think of me? That was my biggest obstacle in life. Always worrying what everyone else would think of me.
Anyway, I had no idea what I would do with the rest of my life. I hated my job. I had put so much time into this venture, that to witness it shrivel up before my eyes and fall to the ground in a pile of dust killed me. I thought my life was over. Hahahahaha
I had no idea how I would go on from there. What I would do with my life. What path to take next. Where I would even find the desire to take the next step towards something different.
I could’ve take that exam again. And a part of me thought for a moment that maybe I would just have to study harder. But in the time that passed behind me in the days that followed that dreadful day I knew I didn’t have it in me to retake it. Not because I lacked the ability. Not because I was giving up on a worthy dream. But because in those days that followed, I felt a certain freedom take hold. Like I had shed a heavy wool blanket and could now breathe. Like the universe had just given me permission to exhale. Did I even want to be a professor at a university? Did I want to spend my life grading exams and essays written my students? Did I want that really? Or was I just looking for a way out of the hell job I had? This path offered me that way out. That’s why I chose it. As the space grew between that exam and my present moment, I began to understand the great gift of failing that exam. Failure can humble a person like nothing else! Hahaha
We’re so programmed in society to believe that failure is a terrible thing, a terrible waste of our efforts and talents. That to fail is the worst thing that can happen and we should avoid it at all costs. Well, what I learned from my experience is that without that failure. I never would’ve found my current path I would’ve forced myself onto a path that wasn’t ideal. It might’ve been ideal at the time because of my circumstance, but in retrospect, I am really happy I failed. For in failing, I succeeded in finding a better path. I love what I do for a career now, and I can’t imagine not having this opportunity. I get to tell stories all day long at a university through videography. I get to hear people’s stories, touching, inspiring stories, then I get to create digital stories that bring out the emotions and lessons and share them with others so they can learn and grow. I also get to write novels about characters who learn and grow too. And then of course I get to tie in all this technology I’ve learned along the way through this career path to podcasting to further share stories and lessons learned. Had I not failed that day under those fluorescent lights and deafening hum, I don’t know that I would’ve met the people who inspired me to move towards a career as a novelist, podcaster, and digital storyteller. My experiences would’ve been very different.
By turning your attention to other things for a while and letting your emotions settle, you’ll come to one of two conclusions. You’ll either come to realize that you need to try that path again because that’s where your passion is rooted. Or, you’ll come to learn that the world has better plans for you on a different path.
Sometimes it takes moments, days, months, even years to grasp the gift of failure. My hope for you is that if you experience failure, that you find the strength inside of yourself to get up, learn from it, and not let it stop you from moving forward and either reaffirming your passion to succeed at what you just failed or the courage to try something completely new so that you may end up on the road that pleases your soul most and serves the world in a better way. I hope you never feel the need to force something into being, but rather win by simply letting go of unnecessary pressure.
As Garth Brooks so eloquently sang, I thank God for unanswered prayers.