By Luisa Florez
A Story Over Coffee: The other day over some coffee, I asked my friend how she ended up in graduate school. Had it always been her plan to attend? I was surprised to hear that no, it wasn’t. In fact, when she was an undergrad her goal was to land a job in industry, get experience, and then, maybe, pursue a master’s degree. She told me that things looked promising for her at the time. “It felt like everyone in the department had a job after graduation,” she confessed, “I was in the perfect major.” As she continued with her story, she frowned and told me that during her senior year, the primary industry that recruited from her department underwent a significant downturn. Full-time entry-level positions became scarce. Regardless of the many resumes and cover letters she sent and the numerous networking events she attended, she wasn’t able to gain any leads. “It became a very frustrating time.”
Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Even when the odds are in our favor, even when we might be really good at something or have prepared in advance for it, life happens and we sometimes fail. It can be a very disappointing moment, but if you take the opportunity to reflect on the event, you can find a great opportunity to grow. So how can you deal with this unpleasant feeling in a proactive way?
5 Ways to Deal with Failure
- Acknowledge the disappointment but don’t let it overpower you.
Failing at something you had set out to achieve can hurt. It’s understandable and you shouldn’t be ashamed of the way it made you feel. It’s healthy to recognize what you are feeling so that you can digest what happened and come up with an action plan to follow. The important thing is to not dwell on the incident and not let it become an excuse to let the fear of failing get in the way.
- Seek mentors, books and role models.
Seeking mentors, books and role models can help put things in perspective. In addition to providing advice and guidance, mentors can help ground you when your imagination has taken control and blown your situation out of proportion. By chatting with your mentor, you can put your situation into context and in most cases, you’ll realize that there is a solution or an action plan that can be developed. Having a mentor can also serve as a living reminder that everyone fails and can overcome obstacles. Books on self-development or on autobiographies of your role models are great ways to see what type of challenges others faced and how they overcame them. Take advantage of social media and reach out to those you admire. Technology has made it possible to be closer to those we thought we could never reach.
- Reflect and don’t be too hard on yourself – you’ve done a lot of things well!
So maybe you got the interview but not the job. Though it may be disappointing, think of all the things that went well for you to get the interview. For example, it could have been that out of 400 applicants, you were one of the 10 that got selected to interview, and one of the five that made it to the second round. You improved your interviewing skills, grew your network and learned something about the industry that can come in handy for the next interview. All these accomplishments count for something. Contemplate what went well and use that motivation to push yourself forward. Analyze what didn’t work and reflect on the lessons learned that will help you prepare for next time. There is always a lesson to be learned.
- Come up with an action plan.
Sometimes we bite off a little more than we can chew. By coming up with an action plan, you’ll be able to track your progress in an easier manner and take more informed decisions or adjustments when things start to deviate from the plan. For example, if your main goal is to land an internship, an action plan could be to divide your larger goal into smaller ones, like getting your resume reviewed or attending the 5 networking events put on by your college. After your first networking event, you might decide to update your action plan to include a networking workshop to improve your skills and be more successful in the remaining events. It’s okay to adjust and modify your strategy as you go. By creating and keeping track of your action plan, you’ll see all the work that you’re doing and how it has made you grow. This can serve as a source of motivation and can make the reflection process (see number 3) much easier.
- Be positive.
When nothing seems to be going right, being positive can be hard to do. However, if you’re able to look at the bright side of things, the significance it can have on your spirit and on your actions is huge. It may feel easier to give in to the disappointment, but doing so can lead to lost opportunities and can make you feel like you’re stuck. By having a positive mindset, you won’t lose sight of new opportunities. In fact, your creativity might kick in and you may begin to find opportunities where you least expected. Your positivity will be contagious and individuals will notice. You will become more resilient and you will be cultivating a culture of growth.
A Story Over Coffee (continued): After months of job searching, my friend came to terms that her strategy wasn’t working. Disappointed, she knew she needed to change directions, but she wasn’t sure how. She decided to reach out to various mentors for advice and met up with them for some coffee, much like we had done that morning. I asked her what they discussed and it ranged from topics like how the industry was doing and how her mentors had dealt with previous downturns to what her goals were. While they chatted, she started to realize that perhaps this was the perfect time to adjust some of her goals and move one closer on her timeline: going to graduate school. She dedicated quality time to reflecting on what she wanted to pursue, began studying for the GRE and applying to different universities. “Though graduate school became my main goal and the majority of my milestones revolved around it,” she began, “I made sure to include networking and professional development in my action plan because those areas take time to develop. If I hadn’t taken the time to come with a plan, I may have disregarded those two areas which are really important for finding a full-time position.” Six months later, she was accepted into the program of her choice. “As uncomfortable as the situation got at times, this experience taught me to be resilient and adaptable,” she mentioned. “And on the bright side,” she smiled, “I got to be a student for just a little while longer.”
For 5 reasons why failing isn’t a catastrophe, check out Failure: Part I