Just because you fail at something doesn’t mean you’re a Failure (even if it is a four-letter word). Failing is a part of life, which everyone — especially parents — need to remember.
After seven years of managing an RV park, I decided to go back to the “regular” workforce last year. Through a friend, I got a temp-to-hire desk position which was challenging but enjoyable, and I truly enjoyed the people I worked with. But after 9 months, it became clear that the higher ups weren’t interested in hiring permanently as promised.
I quit at the end of March to finish moving into our house, and this fall was ready to try again. Something different, I decided, something not behind a desk. I hired on with a fast food company whose product I enjoy, at a location where I like to hang out.
Before you go, “Say, wha-a-at?”, let me explain that, where I live, McDonald’s pays $15 per hour in an effort to compete with the oil and gas industry, which starts at $13-$18 per hour for unskilled labor. So it’s not as crazy as you might think. (No, it wasn’t at the Golden Arches, but that’s not the point.)
I managed to make it two weeks before I quit. While it wasn’t the shortest job I ever held (three-day tie between telephone surveys and ironing shirts at a cleaners many, many years ago), it was still hard to let go. I like the corporate culture. I like the people I was working with. I was getting to know some of the regular customers. But I was coming home in tears.
Like most things in life, the reasons were complicated. To my surprise, it wasn’t being on my feet all day. The learning curve was steep, but I think I was up to that challenge had I stayed. The main problem for me was what I’m calling over-stimulation or excessive input. I felt like someone who has been living in a monastery suddenly plopped into the middle of a youth camp or kids’ arcade. Information, demands and simple noises coming at me from all directions, too many things and people vying for my attention. I realized that even if I were fully trained, I wasn’t sure I could handle the sensory bombardment.
Since I have over 8 years of experience in retail in a long and varied work history, this was a surprise for me. I really thought this would work out. I had even adjusted my wardrobe and calendar with this job in mind. And it didn’t work.
It wasn’t a good fit.
This was hard to ‘fess-up’ to. To myself, more than anyone else. As I shared my frustrations and doubts, I was surprised at the number of people close to me who said, “I wondered, but you sounded so positive about it.”
During this same period, I was listening to the audio version of David J. Epstein’s book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Amongst other profiles, he examines Vincent Van Gogh’s life of various jobs and failures on his way to becoming one of history’s most influential painters. The theme of the book is that society needs people with broad experience and range to make the connections between the various disciplines of hyper-specialists who can’t see the forest for the trees, and people who can find the art outside the box. While I agree with this concept, the immediate take-away was the reminder that it’s OK to fail at something — in my case, this particular job.
This does not mean I’m a failure. My identity and worth don’t rest on what job I work, or even what I write, or how many people read what I write. I’m me, with all the strengths and weaknesses that encompasses, all the “wins” and “failures” I’ve experienced.
As is often the case, it has been the failures that I’ve learned from the most, or through which I’ve been most effective in helping others. Which is why we do our children a disservice when we don’t allow them to experiment and fail — or when “everybody wins”.
When I was a child, I was so afraid of failure that I refused to try things I might not be good at. I saw love as being conditional and feared losing the approval of parents and teachers if I failed. No one told me it was OK to try something and bomb, and then try something else. I had to learn that as an adult, when the consequences were much, much higher.
I’m still seeking, learning, and — yes — failing, as I try to find my particular place in the world. I’m blessed with a husband who supports me in my trials and errors, and I support him.
As the world keeps changing, so does my place in it. So does yours. Jobs are created and jobs are lost. Being on the tail-end of the Baby Boomers, I have helped spear-head the generation that broke the mold of one career/one employer that characterized my parent’s generation.
You don’t have to lock yourself into one track. A good basic education goes a long way, but don’t spend money on specialization if you aren’t sure it’s for you. Take the time to explore and get to know yourself before discovering you’ve spent too much time and money on something you hate.
But, most of all, play. Try new things. Allow yourself to fail. Teach your children how to fail, and then how to move on gracefully. Tears are allowed. Do new things with your kids, your spouse, or partner. Let failure be a part of the growing and learning process, not an end. Dreams rarely stay the same as at genesis: they morph and bend, sometimes dying altogether and sometimes transforming into new wonders that were inconceivable when born.
Epic fails can lead to epic discoveries by freeing us from old expectations. Go, fail, win!