As a child born in the early/mid 80’s, I grew up really familiar with failing.
I played soccer for 10 years and was on a first place team once and a third place team once. Which means there were 8 years when I sat at those end of season award ceremony and got nothing.
Do you know how badly 7, 9, even 13-year-old me wanted a big, shiny trophy with a soccer ball on top? Let me tell you. The disappointment was real.
Towards the end of my soccer career, everyone would get a stupid little soccer pin, because everyone tries, but only the first, second and third place teams got trophies.
My parents would always get me ice cream on the way home from the ceremony and tell me it was a great season anyway.
Pin or not, ice cream or not, I knew I failed. My team failed. This was why we didn’t get the big, shiny trophy with the soccer ball on top.
And it made me try harder.
The year I was on the first place team was actually my last season playing soccer and I cannot even begin to tell you how sweet it was to go up there and collect that trophy and how much better that trophy was because not everyone got one.
I let in one goal that entire season. One goal. I had worked harder than every other goalie in that auditorium who let in more than one. Probably because of the previous 9 years of failing and learning everything to not do as a goalie.
Fast forward a few years and my career reflects the same sort of lessons. I tried my best when I first started out as a stage manager and I think I did a good job, but the different between a first year stage manager and a tenth year stage manager is the amount of crap you have failed out.
Every failure is burned in my brain in a way that successes are not.
Shows, rehearsals, events that were successful fade pretty quickly – but the time I had to redo a schedule eight times (eight times) because I kept forget to check on this or that – burned into my brain. The time I froze during a show stop and couldn’t coherently make an announcement to the audience – burned into my brain. The time I called a rigging cue, then noticed that I was missing a singer who was always, always, always in position at the right time and then heard his scream as a set piece flew into his head because he was late making his costume change and crossing the stage at a weird time – burned into my brain. The two technicians who worked for me devolving into an argument so intense it turned into a Leatherman knife fight – burned into my brain.
That also means that I know (way more than) 8 specific things to check when trying to schedule X sort of event without a second thought now.
I know to never, ever trust that something will just happen because it always has.
I know to squash arguments and disagreements between my subordinates as soon as I see them starting and to not assume they will always working it out ok among themselves.
Failing has taught me more than success ever has.
Arbitrarily deciding I would go to grad school because I didn’t have better life plan at the moment and moving to England looked fun taught me that taking on $30,000 of student loans on a whim is nuts.
It also taught me to work hard and keep my bank account as full as I can – because I’m definitely a whim follower, but it’s better to be able to pay up front.
Taking a high paying job that I sucked at and hated taught me to always live below my means so I’m never trapped doing something I hate. Spending more than half a year waiting for my lease to be up so I could be free of that misery was a major fail.
Sometimes failing just teaches me what I don’t want to do. Sometimes you suck at something in part because you have no interest in doing it in the first place – cough, cough, twirling (I was right. all. along. Mom.)