Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

How Giraffe Watching Taught Me To Accept Failure

giraffe watching failure

I woke up to this email today:

“Our editorial team has found that your application did not adhere to all required guidelines.”

“Our editorial team has found that there were several grammar errors and awkward phrases throughout your application.”

In an attempt to expand my freelance writing possibilities (a.k.a. further stack my coins), I applied to become a writer at Scripted.  Scripted is a freelance marketplace where writers can pitch ideas to potential buyers or apply for previously posted gigs.  In order to become part of the Scripted content team, you have to pass a writing test.  This test consists of an insanely basic grammar test that reads like a third grade English teacher’s pop quiz and two timed writing samples for a 300-word blog post and a product description.  I passed the grammar test with flying colors (hallelujah) but I didn’t exactly ace the writing samples (dammit). The aforementioned quotes were from my rejection letter this morning.

Despite the fact that I’ve worked over 50 different freelance jobs for various clients over the last 30 days, this one rejection momentarily outweighed my success.  No matter how far you go in your career, rejection still sucks.  My inner child always wants to get the golden star and prefers to throw a tantrum in the corner when I don’t get my way.   It’s safe to say I don’t exactly take kindly to constructive criticism.

"My inner child always wants to get the golden star and prefers to throw a tantrum in the corner when I don’t get my way." 

Instantly, I scrutinized their process and went into defense mode.  Timed writing samples are an archaic process that’s akin to high school standardized testing, I thought. For the test’s blog writing sample, I had to choose from three topics that I would NEVER write about.  I chose the topic that I identified with most: giraffe watching. Yes, of the three topics available, the only one I felt even remotely comfortable writing about was giraffe watching. I’d never have to write about something so ridiculous for any of my clients. Clearly, this test wasn’t representative of an everyday writer’s life.  Similar to how I’d prepare to drag a Twitter troll through the mud, I even searched for negative reviews of the service.  Let’s just say I found a few that confirmed I’d dodged a bullet by being rejected.

But the problem here is I didn’t immediately accept the rejection for what it was: a rejection.  Maybe I made some mistakes in my application that I didn’t catch while I was proofreading.  And because of this, maybe I’ve actually missed out on a lucrative professional opportunity that I really could have used.  Maybe my writing style just wasn’t what they were looking for.

Why was it so hard for me to accept this rejection? Why did I hone in on one failure when I had so many other successes to celebrate?  Why was I being such a spoiled brat?

Well, my reaction to failure is actually much bigger than me.  Societal values and our upbringing shape the way we process our failures.  According to a 2015 article from The Guardian, we are raised to believe we’re only as good as what we achieve.  Our success is based on our outcomes.  In our homes or our jobs, it’s instilled in us that winning is based on a tangible result like a promotion or a raise or good grade. 

"Well, my reaction to failure is actually much bigger than me.  Societal values and our upbringing shape the way we process our failures."

We’re raised to chase after success according to other people’s values and expectations.  Because we’ve spent so much of our lives focused on how to meet the standards of others, we never learn how to deal with and accept failure.  Failure is seen as a bad thing.  If you fail, it means you’re not talented enough or you didn’t work hard enough.  It’s rare that anyone takes the time to find the good or the growth in failure.  But when we lose, we learn the most about ourselves.

Similar to how you learn a ton about your significant other when you get into a nasty fight, you have to lose sometimes to truly understand your personality.  Your strength doesn’t come from constantly being praised.  It comes from being kicked down.

This morning, I was kicked down.  And it hurt because I was accustomed to great feedback from my clients.  I expected to become a Scripted writer with no problems whatsoever.  My disappointment wasn’t about losing out on financial opportunities.  It was about a fear of not being good enough.  If I wasn’t good enough for them, how many other clients would reject me in the future? How many had already rejected me? Maybe I wouldn’t be able to hack it as a writer after all?

"Your strength doesn’t come from constantly being praised.  It comes from being kicked down."

But then, I had a kick-ass creative meeting about an upcoming article, and I felt like I was back on track.  Though it’s hard for me to accept, it’s okay to be a failure.  There’s no better way to learn than to get dropped on your ass and told you aren’t good enough.  Because it forces you to come back ten times stronger.  It teaches you to appreciate the wins no matter how small they are. 

Today was a reminder that the path to success is not a straight line.  It’s more like a windy, country back road after a nasty thunderstorm.  It might be a little rough to drive through, but you’ll definitely make it out alive.

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