I’ve interviewed more people than I can count at this point. One of the very common questions asked is for the candidate to describe a weakness or something they worked hard at but ultimately failed. Most people are not comfortable sharing their failures. I’m here to say I think we have it backwards. Embracing the times you’ve fallen short shows strength, not weakness.
I’m big into the Stoic philosophy. A lot of the writings of Marcus Aurelius talk about looking at our obstacles as opportunities. That sounds great, but in practice it’s incredibly difficult. It’s all about trying to shift our perspective. What might seem tragic to us could look much smaller from someone else’s perspective. From an article by Arthur C. Brooks at The Atlantic:
A professional or personal setback that sends you spiraling into self-doubt might not seem so tragic to someone else. You say you had an ugly breakup after trying to make the relationship work? Who hasn’t? Early in my career as a chief executive, I once made a strategy error that resulted in humiliating treatment by the press. I told my neighbor—a grizzled D.C. political veteran—that I felt like a failure because of the incident. He listened and said, “On a 0–10 scale of problems, yours ranks about 0.25.
The entire article is worth a read. Some of the big takeaways:
- Stop Angling for Success
Essentially we feel like shit when we fail because we focus so much on success and what it means to us. Why not focus on improving and learning. Our experience, knowledge, and wisdom are what make us who we are, not bullet points on a resume.
- Keep your ideals front and Centre
This means setting goals that are aligned with your values and who you are rather than some arbitrary metric. If you’re focused on receiving accolades or a massive paycheque you’re going to be disappointed. Those are sometimes outcomes of focusing our your values, they should not be the reason you do what you do.
I wanted to write about this because I struggle with it. I tend to take things very personally when negative things happen that are outside of my control. Are they really “negative”? Maybe I just perceive them that way. The obstacle can instead become the way forward.