Recently, during an open audition for a live speaking opportunity, I totally screwed up. Three-quarters of the way through my ten-minute memorized speech, I stalled. Plain as day, I could see the paragraph ahead – all those planned out sentences waiting for me to get to them, but I just couldn’t find the words in between. I had practiced for hours on end – I knew that I knew the words… I backed up; made another run for it, but once again, I got to the same place and the words simply merged into a big block wall I couldn’t get past. I knew that going on without the missing points would make the whole speech seem dumb, but I had to do it anyway. The words of the next paragraph cheered when I arrived to deliver them without a hitch. I gave my closing line and left the stage knowing I’d blown it, that I’d never be picked.
Even though I knew it was impossible, I waited a week for the email notification. Of course, it never arrived. What was I thinking, going up on stage and exposing myself to that kind of embarrassment. I clearly didn’t know what I was doing, an amateur with no real speaking experience! My first speech audition was a total failure!
…Or was it?
Often, we use these early failures as reasons for giving up on something we’re not even sure about to begin with – our hopes and dreams, the ones we haven’t really given life to yet, the ones we keep thinking maybe and what if about…
It’s easy to interpret our early missed opportunities as a sign that we’re on the wrong path or pursuing the wrong things. We make an attempt and miss the mark, then end up thinking: maybe it was just a “dream,” not something meant to come true. If it doesn’t happen after several attempts, does that mean that God doesn’t want us to go there?
The trouble we have as humans when it comes to attempts is that we’re just not very good at determining our success and/or failures and what they really mean. Our doubts, fears and high expectations cloud our judgment making it tough for us to see the forest for the trees. We know our failures are trying to tell us something, but what?
After leaving the bright lights of the audition stage, I spoke with the event organizers who had a lot of positive things to say about my speech and presentation. Even though I wasn’t chosen, I felt proud of myself for giving it a go. I had no real speech experience and managed to get through about seven minutes of material before freezing. I walked out into the cold wind, made it to my car and drove home in silence wondering if I’d ever do that again. I just wasn’t sure.
Failure is a sign, but a failed attempt should never be your reason for giving up on your heart’s desire – other reasons maybe, like something else better comes along, but not failure. Failure isn’t trying to tell you that what you’re after isn’t meant to be, it’s trying to teach you something about yourself – maybe something you wouldn’t learn any other way.
Here’s how to find out what:
- Take ownership of your failure – You have to accept the choices you made that led to failure. You can’t blame someone else or some circumstance for your failed opportunities in life and then expect to learn something from that or to have it any other way. Only when you own all of your decisions is it possible for you to make course corrections. If you’re blaming, you won’t believe you have anything to change and you’ll end up stuck wondering why you keep making the same failed choices again and again. I know it’s embarrassing to admit you messed up, but it’s not life threatening (at least not in the physical sense).
- Assess the situation – Often we don’t want to look failure in the eye. We feel too ashamed to really get to the bottom of why things didn’t go as planned. We place our failure on the back burner, out of sight, and hope the sting of it just goes away. If it is a desire of the soul, we’ll probably come back to it eventually anyway and try to figure out what happened. We’ll just waste a lot of down time we could have been using to move our dreams forward. If too much time passes, the pain of regret may cause us to avoid it altogether. So it’s important to get to the business of assessment right away while the reality of it is still fresh in our minds.
- Make a plan for the next round – Most failures are simply a good opportunity for course correction. When you look at a situation and redefine a failure as an opportunity for personal growth, it empowers you. Never stop asking the question, how could I use this experience to become better? Athletes know how to overcome failure and move ahead. They make plans to turn their “weaknesses” into strengths. Every season, they set new goals for working on the tough stuff. Once you know what needs improvement, seek out the means to make it happen, then gear up for round two, or three, or three hundred.
When you label an experience as a failure, keep in mind that it is only your unmet expectations that define it for YOU. No one else can make that determination.
While delivering my first speech, even though I wasn’t chosen, I learned a LOT. I learned that I liked doing it! I learned that although it wasn’t perfect, other people appreciated my ideas. I learned that I need more experience, that I need more practice time. I need to work on my transitions so they are seamless and flow perfectly, so I don’t get stuck in the middle waiting for the words to come. I’m now attending a Toastmaster’s club. I didn’t think I would need it, but I can see already that it’s going to help me a lot! The bonus – a lot of the people I’ve met at the meeting have a passion for public speaking and their energy fuels my desire to pursue getting my ideas out there to a live audience even more!
What I know is that if you feel a deep desire for something (that often doesn’t even make sense) that God has installed that in your soul. It’s not a trick! Its fulfillment is more than possible, it’s ordained. All you have to do is honor it by growing into it, by becoming the person who can – that is what is meant by fulfillment…filling in the gaps of becoming your soul’s truest desires. It is all yours to determine how success at that is defined.
Thanks everyone for reading once again! What personal “failure” can you redefine today?