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Fail Upward


"So tell us, Dannielle. What is the secret of your success?"
The interviewer stood there, calmly waiting. It was 8:45 a.m. and she was fresh and undisturbed.
I, on the other hand, was wringing my sweaty hands trying not to freak out.
What a question! What an arrogant ass I'm going to sound like! I'm not qualified to tackle this! Only G-d knows!
The clock was ticking. This was live TV. The wind on my face felt icy and violent.
The words shot out of my mouth like a missile.
"Fail upward."
Oh crap. Oh, crap oh crap oh crap. Does this mean I sound like a failure now?
But it is not my way to be political. And my heart truth is that everybody fails, constantly. There is no other way to learn to live. Think about it:
  • Toddlers fall down - a lot. Then they walk.
  • Students start their dream major, then can't keep up or are disinterested, and realize they'd rather do something else.
  • Professionals armed with degrees and certifications apply for jobs and are rejected, then change careers or start their own businesses.
  • Couples find that love is a complicated dance, and that they will trip over each other many times instead of looking elegant. Sometimes they can't dance with each other anymore.
Life is pain. Winners fall down and pick themselves up.
In a job setting, or any setting really, they act roughly like this:
  • Action Bias. Looking for a job is not enough. Join an industry group. Help others find work. Volunteer. Read. Train. Re-train. Go to lectures. Repeat.
  • All-In Effort. When you're in the job, you do your best. You're not bitching and complaining and hanging back because things aren't perfect. You're the 110% girl, or guy.
  • Active listening. You're observing all the time what's going on. When you get good feedback yourself, or you see others get it, you make a mental note. A-ha! That kind of thing works well around here. When the opposite happens and you get negative cues, you never, ever dismiss it as irrelevant or incorrect. Perception is always reality.
  • Acceptance. The cycle of life applies to all people, all relationships, all groups, all brands, and all jobs. One way or another, they all eventually come to an end. It sucks, it really sucks, and you'll grieve and as part of that you will blame yourself. In some ways you'll probably be right. Gather in the reality of what happened without judgment. Observe it like an anthropologist, a sociologist, a psychologist studying a case.
  • Adaptation: When you are accepting of yourself, you are able to pinpoint with clarity where you flourish and when you flail. From there it is a short step toward saying, the next time X happens, I will respond in Y way and not Z.
In short, winners take for granted the bumps and bruises of life. They are not shocked to find themselves confronted with the latest and greatest screwup - theirs or someone else's. They watch and they learn and they move on.
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia as well as her own independent, freelance sole proprietorship. This blog is written in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo credit: Stig Nygaard via Flickr.

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