And When It Doesn’t

By Madison McConnell

Earlier this month, Olivia posted a story of success. Her blog, ‘When Everything Falls Into Place‘, celebrated the blogging program Friendship Academy had implemented. As a fellow VISTA member, working at a small charter school (Hiawatha Academies,) I also celebrated that success, but I thought I’d share my own story of an endeavor that, unlike Olivia and Friendship Academy’s, wasn’t so much of a success. I think sharing stories of success is important, of course, but there are plenty of times in any kind of work where you won’t succeed, you won’t be able to celebrate your project; and that is not a reflection of you or your worth in your role – something that took a little bit of failure for me to learn.

I graduated from Drake University, almost exactly one year ago as I write this, with a degree in public relations. I had practice, A LOT of practice, building, presenting and implementing public relations campaigns, from full strategic plans for local nonprofits like Above + Beyond Cancer and the Young Women’s Resource Center in Des Moines, Iowa, to a fully implemented campaign for mental health awareness as part of a national contest. So when, in February, we decided we wanted to do something to nod at Valentines Day and honor our teammates and their work, I was eager to get back into working on the projects I’d spent so much of my college career studying.

We decided to run a social media specific campaign, #IHeartHiawatha. The campaign was, in conception anyway, going to be a space for families and students, teachers and staff to share their stories about what makes Hiawatha Academies special, what they loved about the work they did, or the classes they had or the individuals who were impacting their child’s future.

To inspire participation by our supporters and followers, I asked teachers to send me photos of their classes that I could share from our accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) with testimonials from younger students who theoretically wouldn’t have access to their own social media accounts. And then we waited… and waited… and waited. We launched the campaign without those photos or ‘submissions’ from our team, we outlined ways to participate and our grand prize for the post with the most likes by the end of a few week period (an iPad). With this as a prize, we were sure that we’d have a great number of participants. But, suddenly we were a week and a half in with one submission, and only one submission.

We were winding down on our contest, and I was watching something I thought I had in the bag going up in smoke. Of course, we celebrated our teammates win of the iPad, and the meaningful story she shared about her work at Hiawatha Academies, but to be honest, my confidence was shaken – was I not as good at my job as I thought I was? Was this just part of a broader failure? And, so I wallowed. I ended up being on vacation at the same time and taking some time away from the project, away from what I had deemed a failure was the best thing I could have done.

How do you handle failure in the workplace? Here are five strategies from Forbes:

  • Don’t make it personal. Separate the failure from your identity. Just because you haven’t found a successful way of doing something doesn’t mean you are a failure.  These are completely separate thoughts, but many blur the lines between them.  
  • Take stock, learn and adapt. Look at the failure analytically. Why did you fail? What might have produced a better outcome? Was the failure completely beyond your control? After gathering the facts, step back and ask yourself, what did I learn from this? How you will apply this newfound insight going forward?
  • Stop dwelling on it. Obsessing over your failure will not change the outcome. You cannot change the past, but you can shape your future. The faster you take a positive step forward, the quicker you can leave these thoughts behind.
  • Release the need for approval of others.Often our fear of failure is rooted in our fear of being judged and losing others’ respect and esteem. We easily get influenced (and spooked) by what people say about us. Remember, this is your life, not theirs. If you give too much power to others’ opinions, it could douse your confidence, undermining your ability to ultimately succeed.
  • Try a new point of view.  One of the best things you can do is to shift your perspective and belief system away from the negative (“If I fail, it means I am stupid, weak, incapable, and am destined to fall short”) and embrace more positive associations (“If I fail, I am one step closer to succeeding; I am smarter and more savvy because the knowledge I’ve gained through this experience”).

Here’s the bottom line, this work is hard; for a lot of reasons, projects don’t always come to fruition the way you want them to. But, you are not a failure. Having the courage to try is as much of a win as anything else. So, when everything DOESN’T fall into place, take a step back, take a deep breath, realign with your mission and go forward.

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