When Failure Rears Its Ugly Head

I’ve been on lots of search committees during my career, and there’s always a question that goes something like this: Name a time a project of yours failed. What did you learn from the situation and what would you do differently?

People read articles and books about how to prepare for interviews, and sometimes, candidates’ answers start to sound like that advice: Somehow turn the failure into a success. Show how you were able to turn things around. In fact, sometimes, it’s hard to tell the answer to the failure question from the biggest success question.

I don’t blame folks for answering the question in this way, but I always wonder about what failure they’re not mentioning. You see, in my life, I have failed many times. And when I say failed, I mean failed miserably. Sometimes, the problem simply couldn’t be fixed, and I had to walk away saddened and dispirited. Other times, there could be a fix, but only by starting the process over and spending a great deal of time and money. 

And while I certainly learned something from each of those failures, there is no way that I can craft their stories into something that makes me sound heroic. 

But that’s okay. Because the road to success is a messy one. And not every failure can be turned into a success, but it’s true you can learn something from every failure. It’s not a bad thing to fail; it may be bad to fail the same way over and over again.

As we prepare for graduation day here at the college, our students have taken various roads to their cap and gown. One tells of getting bad advice and starting her degree at the wrong type of school. She ended up with a degree but no chance of the type of job she wanted. So she started over here at NSCC. Now she certainly would have preferred not to have spent a year on the wrong path, but she didn’t let that wrong turn prevent her from persevering. Now she’s graduating. Others tell of failing a class and having to take it again; the disappointment and embarrassment didn’t stop them (although more than one reported they certainly felt like quitting.) 

Here’s the thing: If you’re living and trying, you’re going to fail at something. That’s just a given. Don’t sugar coat. When you fail, look it straight on and admit it. But don’t dwell on it. Learn what you can and try again. Or start an entirely new project.

But whatever you do, always remember this: Failing at something does not make you a failure. Ever. 



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