Sometimes life deals you lemons, and that, says Kirstie McDermott, is when you've gotta learn to make sweet, tasty lemonade.
Who doesn’t love to succeed? The desire to do well is in most of us, and there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment you get when you come to the end of a job well done. But life has a funny way of throwing curveballs our way, and despite our best-laid plans, things don’t always work out the way we expect. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. Failure is part of life, and even when we realise things aren’t going to plan, not having things work out the way we’d envisaged can sometimes be for the best, even if it’s really, really hard to see that at the time.
“Many people are raised on only getting praise for successful outcomes,” points out Joanna Fortune, Psychotherapist at the Solamh Clinic, which goes a long way to explain our fear of failure. “We’re conditioned to always please others and do the ‘right thing’, but actually we need to experience what it feels like to let someone down, to not get great results, to be late and to endure the consequences and fall-out of these failures,” she says.
For PR Claire O’Grady*, now 40, a career knock back at 29 threatened to derail her for good. “I’d gotten a job as a PA in a public relations agency and part of the role was that I would be included on PR projects too, because I’d done it in previous roles,” she says. But things started to go sour when Claire voiced her concerns during an annual review. “I told them I wanted to move to the PR side of the business full time,” she recalls.
Claire was told her request wasn’t appropriate for political reasons, and after a long delay, was offered redundancy, with a payout. “They knew there were grounds for constructive dismissal, and they knew they were in the wrong, but I was young and floored by what was happening, so I didn’t know what to do.” Taking the payoff, Claire tried to work out what to do next.
It’s a great life skill to develop the capacity to use our failures to motivate us to push forward and build on our experience.
“I just felt horrible about it, like my work all counted for nothing. The staff turned against me because obviously everyone talked, and I felt there was almost something wrong with me wanting to get ahead – I’d felt I was being unfairly kept back.”
While she found it initially demoralising and hurtful, Claire’s career debacle had a silver lining. “It made me think for myself,” she confirms. Setting up on her own, she’s never looked back. “Now I’m a threat, and now I compete with them for clients,” she laughs. “At the time I thought it was the worst possible thing, within six to 12 months it was the best thing I’d ever done. I was earning double what I’d have earned as account executive and I could make my own rules. It gave me a maturity,” she confirms.
“It’s a great life skill to develop the capacity to use our failures to motivate us to push forward and build on our experience,” confirms Joanna. “The most important thing about trying and failing at something is to reflect on it just enough to integrate the learning from it and then move past it to try again. Some of our best growth and development as humans happens as a result of failing. Change and innovation come out of failed attempts,” she adds.
Events planner Sarah O’Connor*, 36, knows the truth of that. “I got engaged at 23, and married at 24,” she says. “He was a good bit older than me, and my career hadn’t really begun,” she says. It was when career progression stalled for her husband and picked up for her that trouble started. “I got a really good job and I was out a lot at events; he started to resent it – and I started to resent him. The marriage probably started to crumble when I was 26; I was the one who ended it.”
For Sarah, having a failed marriage at an age when her peers were only just starting to get married was really hard. “It was almost like I was bad luck. There’s this stigma when a marriage ends that young,” she says. “Normally you hear of men leaving women, though it was my decision and I’d ended it, and it was awful. People had opinions where they wouldn’t normally.”
Her solution was to mix it all up. “I had a wild couple of months, and then I got a new job, so I had a big, dramatic, ‘I’m going to change my life, it’s going to be amazing’, kind of thing. But I felt like I was self destructing. It took me a year to pull myself together,” she recalls.
Sarah didn’t allow the experience to hold her back. She learned from her first marriage, and when she met her now husband, it was all change. “This time, it’s completely different. You hear a lot about men hating women who do better than them, and I’ve first hand experience of that. But I think my life is much better now – it’s a sliding doors thing: everything that’s happened since wouldn’t have happened, and the person I’m with now pushes me and wants me to do better and better. I got on the right train this time.”
Psst! This article first appeared in STELLAR’s December 2015 issue. Our January/February is on shelves now!
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