I hate failing. I really do. All the self help gurus say you must love failure to learn and grow. I’ll never love it and I’ll go even further and say I’m afraid of failure. Somewhere along the way, most likely as a child, I received the message that it is not okay to fail. I’m not alone. So many of us are so afraid to fail that we miss out on life’s greatest opportunities. We stay in our comfort zone instead of trying new experiences and becoming the best version of ourselves.
Once, I failed big. It was humiliating. I was asked to speak at a school after recently publishing my children’s books. My audience was an entire gym of kindergarten and first graders, and not a classroom where I was most comfortable. If you’ve ever presented at a school, the younger and larger the audience, the more difficult it is. I decided I’d wing the whole presentation since it was only kindergarteners. I had young children, I knew my books, how hard could this really be? I walked in without any preparation and of course, it went badly. Since I hadn’t prepared, I had problems with the technology and no back up plan. I under-anticipated how hard it was to present to young kids who couldn’t sit still. I cringe when I remember that moment and the look of disappointment on the face of the principal who hired me.
After I’d packed up my books and walked back to my car, I sat in the parking lot thinking, “This will never happen to me again. No matter what it takes, I never want to feel like this again.” It was pointless to cry or even complain because I realized that I was one hundred percent responsible for my failure. (Ok, I did complain a little to my supervisor and friend. We’ll call her N.) N said, “Why don’t you join Toastmasters?” And so I did.
I learned how to speak in public. But I did more than that. I googled how to present to children. I googled and read about public speaking. I watched other public speakers. I learned something that I should have known, and probably did know but didn’t want to put in the time to do, which was to practice. It may seem obvious that my lack of preparation caused my failure, but I thought maybe I could be like my father; he says he never practices before a speech and he’s pretty good at it. The truth is that it is the rare person who doesn’t have to practice to master a skill.
Today, no matter where I’m presenting (virtually or physically), on what (a talk, my books or a poem) and to whom, I practice extensively. I usually don’t want to practice at first. There are days of procrastination and agonizing over this extra thing to do. It gets tedious to repeat the same speech over and over again. It’s time consuming. But I do it and not at the last minute either. I practice because I never again want the feeling of standing in front of an audience lost and discombobulated. I need to know I’ve done my best.
Sometimes my kids will see me facing the mirror and ask, “Who are you talking to, mom?”
“No-one. I’m practicing my speech/poem/presentation.”
The first time I practiced my speech in front of the mirror or in front of my hubby or kids, I felt a bit self-conscious but I’m so over that. It’s more important for me that my kids see that practice is necessary. They see that I’m choosing not to be self conscious and that I’m investing in myself.
Without that epic failure (Ok. Maybe it wasn’t epic. I didn’t lose my life savings), I wouldn’t be able to deliver the talks that I do today. I would still be paralyzed by fear and insecurity. The failure was my feedback. I had to do something differently. In this case, it was practice and preparation.
I don’t think most of us love to fail, but our failures make us better, stronger and a lot wiser. Failures give us our stories and point us in the right direction. Failures make us cry, laugh and once we come through on the other side, we look back in amazement at the people we once were and, more importantly, whom we have become.
Bonus: Sometimes other people learn from our failures.
I walked past my son’s room the other day. I heard him talking to himself in French. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Practicing my presentation,” he said.
“Oh,” I nodded and quietly closed the door.