Failure?!? How can that be?!

“It’s not that you’re a bad pilot, it’s that you’re taking them to the wrong destination!”

That’s what my coach had to say when I told him I failed miserably last night. Fell flat on my face.

Have you ever had that feeling? Where you think you failed completely? You’ve heard the classic message, “Don’t stay down, get back up and try again!” Great. That doesn’t help. You still missed the opportunity. Maybe it was even a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, like mine last night.

I had a speech in front of, among other people, the speaker bureaus. The opportunity any speaker not already working full time and with a recognised name would die for. And I blew it. According to the feedback, my speech, which I had rehearsed for hours on end, was great. The presentation was great. My presence was great. But I was giving them 64 minutes worth of information in 6 minutes 40. Yes, you read that right: 6 minutes and 40 seconds. (Ever heard of Pecha Kucha? 20 slides, 20 secs each. That’s a total speaking time of 6 minutes 40. About enough time to make one point. Maybe two. I had 3 points: 3 fears and one way to overcome each one…) I failed to create a takeaway. I failed to be the best speaker of the 6 presenting. I failed to be second best (admittedly, I knew I wouldn’t be best, but I thought I might get 2nd place). I failed to make the bureaus say to themselves: “That guy is GREAT! I need to get him on as a client, so I can get him into companies. People will love him.” I failed to be coherent, concise, memorable. I failed. I fell on my face.

Since it is what I teach people and talk about, I knew the message. My head was saying, “That’s OK, just get up and do it again.”
But the rest of my body was saying, “MAN! That hurts! I’m no good. I won’t ever be a speaker. My speech was terrible. Everything I do is terrible. I suck. I might as well give up and find something else to do. If I find anything else I could be good at.”

So I rang my coach and complained at length about how unfair life is. And how badly I failed. That’s when he said the above line about me piloting the plane well, but taking people to the snow, when they wanted to go swimming in the Carribean – meaning that I am still a great speaker, just this time I was saying the wrong thing. It’s the sort of thing you want to try and avoid, but when it happens, even feedback doesn’t help avoid the fall. In terms of practical advice, he also told me to ring the speaker bureaus and follow up, ask them for feedback. So I did.

And that is when the magic happened.

When I asked for feedback, one bureau said that the format (Pecha Kucha) is not really representative of what they market to companies. So it was fun to watch, but hard to get a good idea of how well we would fit into a company on the basis of last night. We talked for a bit and I offered to invite them to my next keynote speech so they could get an idea of what I can do. They accepted. After that conversation, I had the feeling that I had created a contact. Someone who could be interested in hearing more about me in times to come. Not the impression I had last night, by any means. I felt uplifted and confident that I still had a chance. The window of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which I thought had been slammed shut, had suddenly been kept open! I could still feel the draught!

What I learned is that when you fail, fall flat on your face, you can get up alone, but it hurts. It is not easy. What is very helpful, is to have someone to help you get up. A coach, a mentor, a trainer – name them as you will –  someone who knows what you are trying to do and sees the greater picture, as well as has the emotional distance from your feeling of complete loss. Someone who is able to not only tell you how small your fall actually was, but also give you pointers as to how to ensure that you don’t stay down; that you get back up and try again. So you can follow the advice of all the great people who say that it is only by getting up and trying again when you have failed and fallen that you can reach success.

Of course, all of this has already been said by various people in various places at various times, but it hits home harder when it happens to you.


One thought on “Failure?!? How can that be?!

  1. Pingback: On Learning | Kanuka Simpson - Ikan Ukan

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