Let's talk about why failure is so important to #PersonalSuccess and how you can build from failure to live the life you want.
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Ah, rock bottom. We have all been there, right? The desperate point in life where we say, "it can't get worse than this". Something soon is going to come and relieve me from this, right? We put what little, micro-hope we have left into something that will "save us" from this and it feels like it will never come, making life unbearable and a daily challenge to even get out of bed. You're frozen in time, lifeless.
In 2019, I found myself in that exact position.
After only serving six months of my twenty-four months service in #PeaceCorps, I left my post. Devastated, I immediately returned to the United States, frantically applying for jobs to get a restart on my life. Only after six months in a role I hated, I left. It wouldn't be until fourteen months later, during a global pandemic, that I would start my own business as a nonprofit consultant and work a full-time job as a Resiliency Planner which I LOVE.
I am not going to lie, those fourteen months was pure hell. I was broke, depressed, lived with my parents (at the age of 24-25), and lost my heroic grandfather all while trying to pay for our wedding. Within those fourteen months, I was dying, little by little, every day. I am getting emotional now just recalling my time of solitude.
My stomach would immediately cramp up when people would ask me, "found a job yet?" or "Why in the world would you quit a job without another lined up?" I dreaded seeing friends, family, or even meeting new people because I knew I was going to be asked about what I did for a living.
If you are like me, working or even having a job is important to your well-being. I love to work and be useful. I love to be a part of teams, #goaldigging, and being satisfied with a hard day's work. Being significant in the workplace is everything to me. Taking all of that away was like a death sentence. The only thing I was good for was being an expert in couch potato-ery.
This post is not intended to tell you about all the crappy things that have happened to me, but how I was able to take those crappy life situations and turn them into something pure and wonderful. This post is about how you too, if you are in this same position now, can turn what you feel like is a failure into a season of self-innovation.
But, before I get into what I really want to discuss, I think it's important to define a couple of things here:
Failure vs Mistake
"A failure is a project that doesn't work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn't move you directly closer to your goal.
A mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding."
To simply put, failure is the attempt to try something new. A mistake is a repeated, known error.
I encourage you to fail, not to make mistakes.
Usually, success is saturated with these wonderful, yet unrealistic expectations. Ever read those headlines, "How to Successfully Make One Million Dollars in a Month", "How to Be An Overnight Success", "Be A Successful ___"? I think the people, writers, and companies that guarantee your success is a load of bull.
Because I whole-heartedly believe you determine your own success. You know you better than anyone else! You know your own capabilities and strengths. You know your limits and boundaries. No one else can dictate those for you.
What I am asking you to do is redefine how you define personal success, especially if you are at "rock bottom" in your life.
I am not saying to disregard the promotion you got! I would definitely see that as a personal success.
I am saying that if it took every ounce of your motivation to make a meal for yourself while you are at rock bottom, that's a win. If you finally used that gym membership to go walk for thirty minutes, that's a win.
Personal Sucess can come in many forms of "wins". Don't get caught up in how "extraordinary" those wins have to be to count.
How to Build Personal Success Out of Failure
A personal success for me is starting my own business at the age of 25. I never dreamed of being a business owner, especially at such a young age. But, my business transpired out of my failure. I rebuilt my life on my failure (and currently still am). Those fourteen months gave me time to take a step back, look at who I am, what I wanted to do with my life, and how to persevere through new life goals. I also recognize that my privilege had a play in my fourteen months sabbatical. I can't guarantee you will be able to take that long off to rebuild your life, but I can give you the steps that I found most relevant to me. If anything, I hope these five things give you hope and encouragement to move forward with your life.
1) Prioritize Self Care
This is number one because I neglected it when I needed it the most. As a millennial, our generation has been more open and accepting of mental health than any other generation. I assume that is because we value its importance. We value the need not to be silent, but to seek out the help we need and encourage others to as well.
Right before I quit the job I accepted when I returned home, I went to a therapist. I had never seen a therapist before. I was looking for advice on how to cope with working in a #ToxicWorkEnviornment while also trying to cope with my "failed" Peace Corps experience.
To be honest, it was awkward. I sat down with an older man, started to tell him what was happening at my job, and I just lost it. I just started sobbing. He just continued to hand me tissues, not saying anything. I was so embarrassed.
I didn't understand why I continued to cry. Looking back now, I think that exactly what I needed-to just pour out everything to a complete stranger, judgment-free. He had recommended the book, Feeling Good The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns,M.D. Unfortunately, after I quit my job, I lost my health insurance and was not able to continue meeting with him. However, I will still able to take what I learned from my therapist and continue to apply it when I need it the most.
Self-care isn't just about mental health. Physical care is just as important. There is a reason why so many "self-help" books include physical care.
I can't tell you how many days I laid in bed, all day, and just cried. Some days I didn't eat at all and others I cleaned out the fridge..and the pantry. I neglected my body, something now I deeply regret.
As we all know, daily exercise for at least 30-minutes has several benefits, including improved mood and an increase in energy. Muster up whatever energy you have and go walk, find a free yoga routine on Youtube, or anything to move your body. You can do it!
Along with physical activity, keep a routine!
Prior to COVID, I was going to the public library to have some human interaction. Because I had to stay at home, it made my depression even worse, because I love being with people.
To combat the slow pace at home, I made a weekly schedule, just so I would have a routine to keep myself busy.
I knew on Monday's I went grocery shopping. On Tuesday, I composted. Did I schedule a time to watch TV? Yup. But, I also scheduled time to crochet (a new hobby I picked up during my time of solitude), job search, housework, read, and FaceTime with my friends.
Having a set schedule gave me the motivation I needed to move on and begin to rebuild my life- planning to move on gave me a "job".
2) Allow Yourself to Grieve
Looking back now, I wish I wouldn't have rushed into finding a job immediately returning from Uganda. I needed time to grieve from my "failed" Peace Corps experience.
I did not have the fairy tale Peace Corps experience you usually hear about. My leaving was like a bad breakup. I desperately wanted a relationship with my Peace Corps assignment, but it did not want a relationship with me. The only way for me and my community to both be happy was for me to leave. Before I had left, the song "Happier" by Marshmello & Bastille was fairly popular and I felt (and still feel) that song was written just for me for that phase in my life. I remember crying every time I heard it, thinking to myself, "one day I will be able to listen to this song and smile because this will one day pass". I do smile now when I listen to that song.
I thought that immediately finding a job, any job when I returned home, would drown out my heartbreak and anguish, and eventually resolve itself. Ignoring my grief made it mentally much worse.
After any "failure", you need time to grieve. Give yourself a break to recover so you can muster up your internal motivation to move on. Again, you know you best. Give yourself whatever time you need, however long that may be. For me, it was several months. But, make sure you're grieving with intention, not just going through the motions.
Check out this article by Amy Morin, LCSW on healthy ways to grieve. I found her ninth suggestion most helpful.
3) Get To Know Yourself
Maybe during this time, like me, you question everything about yourself and who you are. I internally felt lost. I am here to tell you, that's okay!
I remember in college, there was a motivational speaker that continually said this phrase throughout his presentation, "It's okay not to be okay, as long as you're on your way to being okay". I hate I cannot remember his name, but that phrase has been with me for almost ten years now.
"It's okay not to be okay, as long as you're on your way to being okay".
As you're grieving, take the time to get to know yourself again.
As Clark guides you through her step-by-step process of "reinventing you", I would also suggest taking personally tests like CliftonStrengths, Myers-Briggs, and Enneagram. Taking these will give you a sense of how you internally operate and how you conduct yourself with others. Being able to articulate those will help guide what you want out of life and how to "brand" yourself.
4) Build Your Skills
This could not be the more perfect time to build on your current skill set. Don't waste the time you've been blessed with.
Fortunately, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), I was able to receive the Coverdell Fellows Program, which allows RPCV's to attend graduate school at a free or reduced rate.
I knew I wanted to earn a Master's degree and stay in the nonprofit and community development realms. After a couple of months of grieving and searching for a program that would be right for me, in the Fall of 2019, I decided to start the Maser's of Applied Community Development at Future Generations University.
Starting the Master's program was a huge weight off my shoulders. It gave me something to work towards, while also building my skills. Starting school again brought me happiness and was building on my ability to be a skilled community developer.
Not to toot my own horn, but now, with one semester left to graduate, I maintain a 4.0, something I never came close to in undergrad.
During my time with the University, gave me the encouragement I needed to start my consulting business. I knew I had the experience to be helpful in the nonprofit world, but who would listen to an unemployed 25-year old? How could I take what I was learning in the classroom about #CommunityDevelopment and apply it to the nonprofit world?
Being able to merge community development and nonprofit development allowed me to create a consulting business and strive for additional certifications and possibly a Ph.D., the possibilities are endless!
5) Network, Network, Network
After working on the first four, now is the perfect time to get back out there and start meeting new people. You're going to need people in your back pocket for you to utilize as mentors or people that can be apart of your "fan club" so you can use them as references.
But, you want to be strategic in this process of finding mentors or people that can back you up.
LinkedIn is the perfect place to start! From time to time, I like to introduce myself when I make "new connections" and ask if we can meet for fifteen minutes or so just so I can meet them in a live conversation (mostly over Zoom nowadays).
Another option would be is to evaluate your social groups or groups of people you have access to churches, parenting groups, community organizations, even Facebook groups-they all have the ability to serve as a place for you to start networking.
If you're not connected to any social groups, be brave and start reaching out to those you're interested in!
Not good at starting conversations like myself? I love "The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills and Leave a Positive Impression!" by Debra Fine. Sure it's a little dated, but it's a great reference for people like me who do not know how to start conversations and then awkwardly get stuck in them.
The 5 Steps
I am not a medical doctor nor someone that can "prescribe" you something that is going to drastically change your life. However, these five steps helped me take back my life from being a sad couch potato to a happier, emotionally healthier, being. I am sure we could add more steps to the list, but these are the steps that got me through one of the most difficult seasons in my life. My hope is that whatever crappy season you are going through now, you find comfort in knowing that this too will pass.