consequences of failure
Many people write about their success stories, but very few write about the many failures along the way.
Almost everyone knows about Bill Gates, but how many know about his “10 dark years”? This is the time when he was young, unknown and worked without getting much attention.
Do you think he might have failed along the way or was his life full of home-runs?
Thankfully, in his case, there are many articles such as this one, that put his less than perfect decisions on display, for everyone to see – but most of us still look at that “richest person in the world” achievement.
However, you don’t see much publicity about most failures, and you know why?
Because they happen so often and many of them are so small that you would think they are a joke.
Who hasn’t ever failed?
For example, have you ever spoken in public?
If you did, you know what I’m talking about.
- You say an inappropriate word
- You forget what you wanted to say
- You remember what you had to say after you’ve finished
- You didn’t present an important piece of information
- You were paying attention to your speech and not what the people in the room felt
- You didn’t ask questions
- You put people to sleep
Ok, so maybe we can agree that sometimes we’re not our best selves.
But the truth is we don’t even have to be.
Mistakes happen, you can’t avoid that.
In other words, we either accept them for what they are, or we let them pull us down.
The main problem with all of those bullet points is that many times, instead of helping us improve, they limit us.
What happens to most of us when we forget what we wanted to say or we say something that doesn’t sound right?
Well, as you know, in most cases, we lose some of our confidence.
And this is where I think most of us start losing rather than winning in life.
When you lose confidence, one of 2 things happen:
- You start underperforming
- You avoid doing that thing altogether
So if we’re talking about public speaking, let’s look at how each one affects the performance:
- You say something you didn’t like and then during the rest of your speak, you will overthink and pay great attention not to do any other mistake
- The performance ended, but now you know that next time, there’s a slight possibility that you’ll do the same mistake. This creates some anxiety and guess who might shy away from speaking in public again when faced with the opportunity?
As we can see, both scenarios do more harm than good.
This in turn, creates a never ending vicious cycle.
going past failure
Unfortunately, this is what happens to most of us as we grow up.
- We try something for the first time
- If it doesn’t go well, we make sure we stop doing it
- We make sure to have some panic attacks each time we think of it
Now, I’m joking just slightly.
But isn’t that what happens most of the time?
You failed at something, and the next time you’re already thinking:
- “Should I even try again?”
- “What if I fail again?”
- “Why should I try if I’m not good at this?”
This is both conscious and unconscious.
We still have an ancient brain, and its number one priority is to keep us alive.
But as you know, we don’t live in those dangerous times anymore.
- Lions are not chasing us anymore
- Food is abundant
- Life expectancy is still increasing
And still, public speaking is feared more than death.
What we must realize, is the fact that failing is what kept us evolving.
You got burned touching something hot, guess what, you didn’t do it again.
Does that sound familiar?
I’m sure it does.
We all learned many things through trial and error.
However, if you did a mistake while hunting or running from some animal that was trying to eat you, there was no second chance.
You were either feasting, fasting or dying.
But now, the threat is saying one wrong word during a 10-minute meeting, or having to pick your next meal.
Either way, we activate our stress hormone – cortisol.
Cortisol doesn’t really care what you fear.
Sure, the greater the fear, the more cortisol you’ll have, but since now we have less harmful threats, we’ve lowered our bar.
Did our ancestors have “low smartphone battery anxiety”?
Well, that’s one more stress factor right there.
There’s even a word that describes people who fear having their phone out of reach – nomophobia.
So what does this mean?
Basically, that we lost perspective of what should be avoided and what should be challenged.
As kids, we tried to walk and failed – A LOT.
But did we stop? Or did our parents stop us from failing?
Did they say: “I guess my kid just isn’t good at walking, we should probably stop him from even trying”.
Of course not.
They were probably screaming in their head “My kid is going to walk and I’m going to sit here and watch him, and help him, and wait for him to do it, because I know he will do it eventually!!”.
And then what happened?
We started to talk.
Hmm, makes you think…
So it’s possible to achieve something if you persist…
Interesting concept, isn’t it?
But the problem is that most of us only know it intellectually.
I mean, even as you’re reading this, you think that it’s obvious, but think for a second, is there any chance that in the future, you’ll still fear or even worse, avoid doing something, just because you somehow failed or messed up in the past?
And we even know that it’s not good for us.
I know I’m guilty of it.
And that brings us to my Netguru story.
As you know from the title, it’s no success story, but I’m sure you’ll find some interesting bits in it.
We have to remember, a 1% improvement each day means a significant gain at the end of the year.
And as James Clear put it into a graph, 1% better each day goes a long way.
getting turned down by netguru
Now, some of you might’ve heard of Netguru, and probably most of you haven’t.
It’s a Polish company that is doing web development projects.
They have expanded quite fast from the early days, which was actually 10 years ago, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that you would be able to trace their big hits as a company.
Remember the “ten dark years” of Bill Gates?
Long story short, it was my 3rd semester in Poznan (Poland) as an Erasmus exchange student.
I recently stepped down from the mobile gaming app Gizer at that time, and I was looking for a new challenge, in a more serious business.
And here was Netguru.
Although it was Spring of 2018 and my semester (and the 1st year of my Masters degree) was almost ending, I knew I was going to study in the same city for the next semester as well.
Looked like a great opportunity to work in a company that operates internationally, speaks mostly English and encourages remote work.
All that remained was to look for an open position that suited me.
I’ve studied a mix of marketing and management in college and found a keen interest in communication, psychology and business.
So what was available?
Well, since hiring is done all year-round, you can pretty much find any position you want at all times.
And 2 roles looked really interesting. Those were:
- Junior Business Development
- Junior Project Manager
Both looked great on paper.
Oh, and the “Junior” part means that you’re 3 months on some kind of probation to see if the fit is right.
I knew I could do the job in any of them pretty well. I just had to remove one limiting question from my mind:
“Was I good enough?”
After reminding myself that it’s all a mental game, it was time to start the process.
Time to take action.
First was the Business Development role.
Unfortunately, BD was already closed 1-2 days after applying, so there wasn’t even a chance to get my application read.
junior project manager journey
After sending an email to get a clarification, I applied for the Junior PM role – which seemed to be open.
One week after applying I received an email regarding the language-check phone call.
I can only say it was a nice conversation, the person interviewing me didn’t try to make this harder than it should.
After that I received 2 tasks, related to Project Management.
I’m a resourceful person so this was quite easy to do.
Since I have a knack for design and tend to move toward perfectionism, I even gave the Word file I sent a magical (design) touch – which would make it quite difficult to miss for a recruiter.
1 week later, an interview was scheduled with a Project Manager and a HR representative.
The call was at around 4 PM. Might’ve been better in the morning, but with a University visit to a local fare that day, it was the right timing for all 3 of us.
Call went great in my opinion. Sure, I wasn’t perfect, but it was the first PM role I’ve applied for and I took 2 full courses on Agile and Scrum beforehand.
I took the courses seriously enough – aka immersed myself, so the conversation went smooth, because I was confident in my understanding of Agile.
Sure enough, one week later, I receive the decision:
“Thanks for joining our meeting. Unfortunately, we regret to inform that you have not been selected for further consideration for this position.”
Nothing surprising since I knew the mechanics of the hiring game.
We all know that most of us, depending on a few variables, could get rejected for a Junior role at a company and get accepted for a Manager role at another.
3 weeks later, I received the full feedback.
It had the following 3 things:
- Language audit
If you’re curious how such a feedback looks, here are the comments on each one.
1. Language audit:
6: Uses advanced vocabulary resource readily to convey precise meaning with relative success. Employs some less common and idiomatic language skillfully, though with occasional inappropriacy.
Grammatical Range and Accuracy:
6: Produces a majority of error-free sentences with rare inappropriacy or non-systematic errors.
Fluency, Task Response, Cogerence & Cohesion:
6: Successfully selects relevant contributions and coherently and accurately presents it to the interlocutor. The response is well-organised and formulated with ease.
6: Shows almost all positive features with occasional inaccuracies and is effortless to understand.
READY, but the flow should ba a little bit faster. Should revise the mixed and third conditional and some fixed phrases, e.g. as for XYZ or as far as XYZ is concerned – not as far as XYZ.
The document looks really nice. It is well structured, legible, easy to follow.
It is visible that Felix thought the task through and made a great effort to prepare the answers.
Nice app description.
Milestones are correctly identified, described and justified.
User stories are very well written. I like the idea of graphic presentation of these.
Most valuable milestone is described exhaustively but concisely at the same time
Good in general. Communication with a client and partnership is stressed. The only thing I would not assume is that client will be reasonable and will be positive- reality is not that colourful.
The reason of our decision was a fact that you don’t have yet enough experience when it comes to cooperating with clients, in teams and in leading projects. Also during the interview your English skills weren’t the best, maybe due to stress. You should also gain some more knowledge when it comes to Agile and Scrum.
aftermath and lessons learned
Depending on your threshold, getting rejected for something that you might have invested some time and resources into, might seem a bit of a letdown.
But at the end of the day it’s still all in our heads.
Sure, maybe it was unpleasant in the moment, but I knew that it was my fault for not conveying the right emotion, at the right time, to the right people.
If someone tells you that you don’t have enough experience, it just shows that they don’t trust you enough.
As Seth Godin might say, experience is just a story.
A story of what you did in the past, which seemingly, should predict what you will do in the future. But that doesn’t seem logical, does it?
If that would be the case, an athlete that set a world record should be able to at least match that performance each and every time (which we know doesn’t happen).
Think of Nadia Comaneci. She received the first perfect 10 in history.
Did she do it for the rest of her career each and every time?
Not even close.
Look at the greatest NBA player of all time – Michael Jordan.
If you look at his career shot record, it’s slightly below 50%.
That means Michael Jordan missed more than half of his shoots.
But you know why he is the greatest?
Because he persevered more than anyone else, and when it mattered most, he had the courage to take responsibility.
In the business world it’s not much different.
Michael Jordan was cut from the basketball team.
Steve Jobs was kicked out of his own company.
Walt Disney “lacked imagination” and Oprah Winfrey “wasn’t fit for television”.
It’s never black and white.
Imagine that the HR person had a bad day and just before finally finishing their day, you show up for an interview.
As much as you might prepare, you will simply have a disadvantage because you find yourself in the right place at the wrong time.
The truth is that if there’s something you don’t have, you simply didn’t want it badly enough or you tried to bargain over the price – as English writer Rudyard Kipling nicely put it.
For example, I knew that I could go and work at Netguru if I really wanted to.
It was only a matter of timing.
I could’ve easily worked for free during the summer, because my belief is that you either work for full price or for free, but never for cheap.
However, it wasn’t meant to be.
On the 6th of August, my ID was expiring so I had to return to Romania and with a break from living in Poland, it meant that I couldn’t just ask to join the team while I was in Romania – too much entitlement.
(At least I was able to make some nice keto desserts for my birthday. You can read more about that, or watch the low carb extravaganza pictures here.)
And then, when I returned to Poland, on that exact same night, I lost my laptop and all my legal documents.
You can find a short retrospective of that story in this post.
As much as it helped me mentally, because I increased my tolerance to stressful events, the truth is that I still lost I lost both money and time during those events.
Did I also lose the opportunity to be part of the Netguru team?
Around 50% I’m sure that’s the case, because I might’ve been just one question away from joining.
However, the biggest gain from this experience might be this actual post.
If I could pinpoint some things that helped me the most to advance or grow in life, writing is definitely one of them.
I sure take full responsibility for what happened to me, but I know that rejection usually discourages many people and tends to take away some of their confidence, instead of boosting it.
So what I recommend is looking at it from a different angle.
For example, Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time, could hire some kid after a conversation on the street, and on a scale from 0 to 10 (0 being the worst and 10 being the best), that kid might be a 9.1 hire.
That’s because, as Gary put it, you bring and keep great employees on your team exactly how you start any relationship – with trust.
Some HR people still play the experience game.
Some still play the old “why should I hire you?” question game – well, let me show you my “secret-selling-techniques I learned from YouTube”
Some still play the old “what’s your greatest accomplishment?” – uhm, well, maybe being born.
Sure, all of these questions have their place, but most of the time, it’s just like making scrambled eggs.
If you are reading this post, chances are that you’re probably already in a good place, either by being one of the few that had a good start in life or worked your ass of for it. (most of us will pick the later anyway)
To put it into perspective, this post is first and foremost, a piece of content that has the sole purpose of helping you see life from another point of view.
For me, the biggest fulfillment comes from putting my experiences into words and helping at least 1 other person get a slight improvement in their life – remember the 1% improvement chart?
I’ve read enough books and watched enough videos to see patterns of where most of us need a bit of a push, and by reading what someone else has gone through, is one of those few ways to internalize some of their experience, without having to experience all the hardships they have gone through.
As much as this helps me analyze what I went through and adjust in the future, I believe it has the same power of shaping for the better someone’s future as well, given it is read at the right time in life, in the right context – and given enough attention.
And I want to point out the attention part, because most of the time, our biases hold us back. I’m sure you’d look differently at this post if it was written by [insert your favorite celebrity here].
And as much as it may seem that I bash the “experience” phenomenon, I will just ask you this one question, because I don’t want anyone else to leave this post and still have this limiting belief.
Have you ever done something for the first time without previous experience?
Like, I don’t know, maybe walking?
Maybe talking with a person without having a crystal ball that would tell you exactly what they will answer you in return?
Maybe using a computer for the first time?
If you’re a programmer, you probably already know that most of the time you’re not even sure why the code works, but hey, you made it work, even if it’s for the first time.
But sometimes it just doesn’t work, and that’s ok, you’ll figure it out eventually.
And if you’ve made it this far, I want you to get the most out of this post, because we all feel good after consuming a piece of content, but what matters even more is what we do with it afterward.
I’ve recently made a post about transforming wasted time into productive time, and if I’d have to incorporate it into this post for your benefit, you’d have to let me ask you one question.
What did you learn from this blog post?
It can be one word, it can be one sentence, it can be 10 paragraphs.
In my previous post, I’ve made it easier to take some kind of action by giving a set of simple questions you can use.
- Could you write a note on a piece of paper so you apply it soon?
- Could you share the article with a friend that may need it?
- Could you make a social media post to inform other people of what you’ve just learned?
One piece of wisdom I’ve collected in the past couple of years, is that you should try to take some kind of action right away after reading something or having an idea.
If you don’t, that’s fine as well, but just imagine your life if you always took one positive action after consuming a piece of content, versus your life if you always made the decision of wasting that time.
Life enthusiast with a great desire to constantly perfect myself, get in better physical and mental shape, while also helping other people by sharing everything I’ve been able to learn.