Over the past month, I interviewed three times for a job I felt sure I would get. It felt, from the moment I heard about it, as if it were tailored specifically for my qualifications. It was the perfect match for both my skills and passion, and each step closer made me more self-assured that I was the natural fit. I (perhaps not so wisely) put aside all other work to focus exclusively on creating space for this new job. I worked hard to nail my interviews. I gave it my all. Yet in the end, I failed to get the job.
I felt both blindsided and bereft when I received the news that I was the runner-up with not so much as a ribbon to commemorate my efforts. I wished them well with their new candidate, but I secretly wanted to beg them for the answer to that ego-crushing question: Why not me?
To compound my feeling of failure, this wasn’t a new scenario for me—not in the least. A couple months earlier, I had the same experience interviewing for a slightly less perfect job. Totally qualified, vying as one of the final two and ultimately coming up short. It hurt.
As much as these failures were a blow to my pride, I’ve come to see the silver lining in each of them. The first job was good money, but I wasn’t terribly passionate about it. It would have taken up a good deal of my time and creative energy. It wasn’t quite right, and had I taken it, I never would have had the time or inclination to apply myself with such force and dedication to this second job. The other one I didn’t get. The one that smacked my ego in the face but humbled me for the next opportunity. The one that now leaves me open to a new and far better path than I had originally anticipated, just as every failure does.
The truth is, these back-to back failures have been invaluable to my future because they have shown me (firmly) the paths that are not for me. Failure can be a lesson in impermanence, or one in taming your ego or learning the art of self-improvement. Failure is a masterful teacher in ways success often isn’t.
It gives you the opportunity to analyze your experiences and improve for the next time.
But for all the virtuous lessons that can apply to any number of failures, the most consistent silver lining is that of opportunity—not the one you “missed” but the one that is inevitably on its way. Failure isn’t always about learning to be better, faster or stronger than the next guy. Sometimes it’s about learning, in hindsight, that the best was yet to come.
Even though this second job was a better fit than the first, I have come away feeling less scarred by the failure because I know that these experiences are preparing me for the next opportunity. Not only that, the failure itself leaves me open to something better, even if I am not yet certain of what that entails.
It may seem like blind hope or unwise optimism, but framing failure as a gift of opportunity isn’t without merit. In fact, there are many “famous failures” who have shown that failure is one of the key stepping stones of success:
- Oprah Winfrey was famously fired from her television news job and given over to a daytime talk show as a sort of consolation prize—the opportunity that would take her to unimaginable heights in her career.
- Anna Wintour was fired as a junior fashion editor from Harper’s Bazaar because her style was too “edgy”—a trait her career would depend on in her decades-long run as editor-in-chief of Vogue.
- Walt Disney was fired as a cartoonist for The Kansas City Star newspaper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”—which led him, undeterred, to strike out for Hollywood and found Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.
These are extreme cases of success to be certain, but they each show the powerful opportunity that failure brings to the picture: bigger, better opportunity waiting in the eaves. It can mean toiling away at a path that doesn’t harness your best and brightest self—a learning experience, and the first step toward more than you imagined for yourself. If you ask me, that’s a silver lining well worth celebrating.
Related: 12 Empowering Lessons About Failure
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