By Jennifer W.Y. Ra • November 18, 2017•Writers in Residence
I can clearly recall the day I finally understood the most important advice I’d ever gotten from a mentor.
I was sitting at my desk with my head in my lap. After hitting an all-time low during particularly brutal mock trial tournament in Ohio, fumbling to put together a presentation for my firm’s most important case of the season, poring through midterm material, and barely having the time to eat (let alone sleep), I’d had enough. I’d bombed my mock trial case and I wasn’t sure what I would bomb next. As I watched the minute hand ticking from one unforgiving bar to the next, I felt each click and clack puncturing into the fabric of my neatly defined reality. I slowly unfurled into despair.
However, it was then that it struck me – the one thing my independent research mentor and professor had always said would carry me through the lows – the rejection, the criticism, the occasional bout of inertia, etc. – that would surely come throughout my life:
“Pause. Be kind to yourself. Then will yourself to fail forward.”
You see, the thing about being an ambitious individual is that you often feel you have to be a paragon of excellence (which, as you know, is just another way of saying perfect). When you fail that impossible standard, it can completely shatter your identity and paralyze you. In those moments, we are our first and worst enemy.
I’ve received countless career advice over the years. “Don’t be fungible”, “Focus on building your skillsets”, and the list goes on. However, to this day, the most important practical advice I’ve ever received is my professor's advice. Applying it has gotten me through some of the most difficult moments of my professional life and I believe it’s a solid lesson in good mental hygiene for any professional or student.
So what does it mean to be kind to yourself and fail forward?
“Be Kind to Yourself”: It means taking the day or a few hours off, remembering the qualities that give your life fulfillment, laughing a little, and allowing yourself that Reese’s Pieces you’ve been holding off on. Being kind to yourself is an important way of coming to terms with yourself in those daunting moments. It’s what ultimately allows you to move on.
“Will Yourself to Fail Forward”: You’ve probably heard this one at some point. However, I can’t stress this enough. Failure is inevitable. We’ve all had those days in which one failure seemed to come after the next. But as my professor always said, the most important thing is to keep going. Fail and fail again, but never stop. Keep taking risks. Keep challenging yourself. This is how you finally achieve success.
An oft-repeated quote is that to err is human. What people don’t repeat enough is that to be human is to err and err repeatedly.
Pause. Be kind to yourself. Dare to fail forward.