Class of 2016: Congratulations: I hope you fail (and a little advice for when you do)
Dear Class of 2016, you graduate high school in a few days and will walk across that stage and receive that diploma you have earned. You will be cheered. You will be freed. You will gain greater access to this great big world than you have ever had before. This is the one and only time in your life that you will do this exact thing and let’s be honest – it is amazing!
You are eager to launch out in this world and be free. This is normal. At the same time there may be a hidden anxiousness about the unknown that you don’t wear on your face, but it lurks somewhere in your heart. This is also normal. Having two seemingly opposing feelings at once is not new to you, but having these specific feelings in these specific ways is probably new to you. Again, it is normal. Having the “I can’t wait to get out there and do whatever it is I am going to do even though I have no idea what it is” feeling is normal. Transitions in life end up being like jigsaw puzzles where there is a picture you are putting together, but you can’t see it yet.
If you feel excited and anxious, ready and not ready, eager and apprehensive, this is all normal. Engaging the complexity of life is part of what it means to be an adult. You won’t know everything before it happens. Life has its way of providing surprises despite the best planning. Still plan, sure, but also leave some room for surprises.
The freedom you so greatly desire and will now grasp more fully than ever before is exciting to be sure, but it also comes with some high expectations. Really high. This world expects a lot of you. And let’s be honest, you expect a lot of yourselves as well. And sometimes those expectations can seem overwhelming. You want to do well. You don’t want to disappoint. You don’t want to come up short. You don’t ever want to fail.
Well, I hope you do fail.
And I hope that when you fail, as you most certainly will, that you will do something constructive with it. Do! Not! Quit! Deciding that failure is a reason to quit is the one failure you will not recover from. When you fail it feels like the end of the world. It feels like there is no sense moving forward. It can lead you to believe that perhaps you’re not good at doing this, or you’re not good enough for that or that you can’t do anything right. Failure can lead to feeling like quitting. Don’t quit.
How? How do you not quit after failure?
Here are ten things to do when you fail:
1. Let it hurt for a moment. You’re human.
2. Decide that failure does not require quitting.
3. Convert that hurt of failure into meaning (e.g. failure is your teacher, not your enemy)
4. Seek out a mentor who is both where you want to be and at the same time has failed more than you.
5. Invite feedback from people smarter than you are (relax, we are all well acquainted with failure and do not expect you will be the first person ever to avoid failure).
6. Be prepared to have that feedback create discomfort (and then repeat #1).
7. Gather all that failure and your mentor have taught you and try again.
8. Understand that failure is the only true way to rule out bad ideas you could not have anticipated.
9. Come to embrace the reality that failure builds endurance.
10. Your current failure is the going to be the much needed and desired grace you give to someone else someday who is counting on you to be a great mentor.