I have failed many, many times. One of my failures was on stage in front of 250 people. It was the first day of my speaking career. A seminar company had hired me to present their workshop, Dealing with Difficult People, at conferences all across Canada.
I landed this job after submitting a resume and a five-minute demonstration video. After watching the video, the woman in charge of hiring the trainers flew me to Colorado for an interview and hired me. I thanked her for the opportunity and asked, “Why did you hire me out of the hundreds of applicants?”
She replied, “You speak with passion. I can teach people to become better speakers, but I can’t teach them how to speak with passion.” I signed the paperwork and started my new job.
On my first day, I bombed!
I had not prepared well. I could not remember what I was supposed to say, so I read directly from my typed-out notes, which made for a very boring presentation. In addition, I was supposed to speak to this group from 9 am to 4 pm. However, I ran out of material at around 2:30 pm and ended the seminar 90 minutes early.
I collected the audience’s evaluations at the end of my seminar, and I was rated very low by most of the participants. I was 26 years old and felt so bad about my performance that I vowed never to speak again.
I called my boss to let her know what had happened. I held my breath and braced myself to hear, “You’re fired!” Those words did not come. She did not yell. She did not get mad. She did not fire me. Instead, she asked, “What did you learn from this experience, and what will you do differently next time?”
I told her I had learned to prepare well. In the future, I would time all of my stories with a stopwatch so I would know exactly how much material I had. I would learn the material well so I would not have to read my notes. She appreciated my response and gave me a second chance.
A quote often attributed to Winston Churchill goes like this:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” (Good Reads, 2023).
I agree! One of my key takeaways from my failure on stage is that failure is neither final nor fatal. It is not the end of the road. It is a learning experience. I did learn from that failure. When I give presentations now, I know my material inside and out. I know how to shorten and extend presentations on the spot if needed. While my failure was a painful experience, learning from my mistakes has helped me to become a better speaker.
Failure is a part of creativity. When creating, we will likely make many mistakes on the way to a successful product. Even when a product is successfully launched, it is not final. We can keep building off our ideas, learning from our mistakes, and perfecting our product or service. The key is not to let failure stop you from moving forward. Instead, it is about recognizing failure for what it truly is—a springboard to success!
“Highly creative people have a tendency for post-traumatic growth and an ability to learn from distressing experiences” (Mifsud, 2018, as cited in Rhodes, 2023, Slide 8). I am a creative person; I learned from that distressing experience, and I have a newfound knowledge of preparing well for a variety of situations. In fact, I prepare well for television and podcast interviews. I prepare well for speaking engagements. As a result, I do well many times. However, many times, I fail.
Now, when I fail, I ask myself, “What did you learn from this experience, and what will you do differently next time?” It turns out that painful experience many years ago was one of the best things that happened to me.
Good Reads. (2023.) Winston S. Churchill: Quotable Quote.
Rhodes, C. (2023). Creativity: A personal understanding. Week 11 lecture: Improving your creativity [PowerPoint]. Faculty of Liberal Studies, Durham College.