If you want to start winning in life, you need to look at disappointment in a whole new light. 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.
The Path to Start Winning
A professor impressed this idea in my brain. 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. I did so to determine if their program was one in which I wanted to enroll.
I narrowed my choices down to a few in Florida. In love with the tropical vibe, I could see myself basking in the warmth, book in hand. Also, I loved 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. I really wanted to start winning.
Kick in the Butt
Anyway, right before I started my research into schools, I started working at a financial firm. How did that go? Well, let’s just say, I’d rather suffer with the flu than sit in a cubicle wearing a headset consoling angry shareholders!
This disdain towards my job only fed my hunger to ace the Graduate Record Exam. If I did that, I had a good chance to land a full ride waiver on my tuition. I’d earn my spot in a very competitive teacher assistance program.
My GRE’s had to be superb. So, never deterred from a good challenge, and having just graduated Summa cum lade from Rhode Island College, I thought piece of cake. My future is about to unfold! Without giving anything else a thought, I put everything into this dream towards a Ph.D.
Total Serious Mode to Start Winning
I committed to studying for the GRE’s four hours every single day before going to my full time job. I purchased an exam prep book and got serious. For six months straight, I studied, taking those practice tests over and over again. I aimed to raise my score each time, a score that sat pretty low. 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 start winning, dammit.
So, as the exam date neared, I upped my studying time to six hours a day.
When the day arrived, my stomach knotted. I couldn’t eat and 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.
Ready or Not
Well, the exam began whether I was ready for it or not. It was timed. That timer sat in the top 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 poked at me. All the effort I put into preparing, the sacrifices to my spouse, to my family, to my health, to my freaking life, crashed down on me.
I panicked. Sitting in that chair, I trembled and 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. My plan to start winning faded. 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. It died right there in that bright room with its unforgiving fluorescent lights and deafening hum.
I felt like the world’s biggest failure. Embarrassed and disappointed, I hung my head in shame. Thinking back now, I wasn’t too far removed from my character, Faith, in The Curvy Side of Life, hitting one of those major curves in life.
I wanted to prove I could set my mind to anything and do it. And, then I failed. What would I say to my spouse, my parents, and my friends? How would they think of me? I always worried about 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. And, quite frankly, I had put so much time into this venture, it hurt to let it go. 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.
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. As a matter of fact, a part of me thought for a moment that maybe I would just have to study harder. But in the time that passed 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. And, not because I gave 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. Just like the universe had given me permission to exhale.
Did I even want to be a professor at a university? Secondly, did I want to spend my life grading exams and essays written by students? Or was I searching 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.
Failure is a Good Thing
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. Actually, I would’ve forced myself onto a path that wasn’t ideal.
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. You see, I get to hear people’s stories, touching, inspiring stories. Then, I get to create digital stories that bring out the emotions and lessons. I then get to share them with others so they can learn and grow.
Additionally, I get to write novels about characters who learn and grow too. Then, of course, I get to tie in all this technology I’ve learned along the way through this career path to podcasting and blogging. That allows me to further share stories and lessons learned.
Had I not failed that day under those fluorescent lights and deafening hum, I wouldn’t be me today. 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. Start winning, I did. Thanks to failure.
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. You’ll start winning either way.
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 see it as a gift. I hope you’ll find the strength inside of yourself to get up, learn from it, and not let it stop you from moving forward. Furthermore, if you remain open, that failure will either reaffirm your passion to succeed at what you just failed at or the courage to try something completely new.
Either way, I hope 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.