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When Painful Experiences Are Your Best Opportunity: How to Overcome Failure

By 30/11/2016April 11th, 2018I Don't Know What I Want To Do

2016 is almost over. It’s crazy how fast time flies. It’s a cliche, I know, but do you find that each year seems to pass more quickly than the last?

New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday. Does that seem odd? 

I was born in Albania, a once-communist country in Eastern Europe.

Here I am with my sister and mom (I’m wearing the big glasses, and I’m the chunky baby in the stroller), and no this photo is not from the 1940s, but yes all of our photos were in black and white.

Belma-McCaffrey_Overcome-FailureIn Albania, we didn’t celebrate Christmas or any religious holiday because that was the law. In fact, you weren’t allowed to practice a religion, period.

Instead of celebrating religious holidays like Christmas we focused on secular ones like New Year’s Eve. We bought a “New Years” tree. And Santa Claus was renamed “Old Man of the New Year.”

(Imagine my confusion when I moved to the U.S. at age eight.)

My family was always happy and hopeful on New Year’s Eve. We danced, we ate, and we talked about new beginnings. My mom made a cake, and in that cake she’d throw a coin. She’d then cut the cake, and hand each of us a piece. Whoever had the coin was predicted to have have great luck in the new year.

Even though only one person in our family won the coin, the coin set the intention. Great things were coming our way.

New Year’s Eve is still a few weeks away, but I’m already planning the celebrations, and thinking about new beginnings. I’m also reflecting on the themes of this past year, the growth, the challenges, and what I’m planning to accomplish in 2017.

I can’t think about the growth I experienced in 2016, without thinking about the challenges of the year prior, a year of launching and shutting down my first business and becoming a new mom, all while working full time at the largest news organization in the world. 2015 was a year of exhaustion, joy, and failure, and one that will set the course for how I work and live moving forward.

As a result of my burnout in 2015, I was adamant on change, and insistent on working from a healthier, happier place. And I did.

If you’re a reader of this blog, you likely want to redefine work for yourself, to find something fulfilling, creative, to grow, learn, challenge yourself. You likely have big goals. This is a privilege. It means your basic needs are (more or less) met so you can afford to want more, to strive for the next challenge, to reach a little higher.

Using your work life as a vehicle for impact is one way to do this, and we need you to do this. There are so many problems to solve in the world, and each of our creativity, passion, skill set, values play a role in adding to the greater good.

So how can we get there?

The full answer would make for an extremely long blog post. Instead, I want to call out what I learned this year following my burnout in 2015, and growing more comfortable into my role as a mother.

Tackle the foundation first, and always take care of it. Don’t underestimate the deep work, the mindset, the issues, the stuff no one likes talking about because talking about them is intense and uncomfortable.

Here’s a list of what that may require.

What do you care about?

I spent most of my childhood and adult life trying to define this. I think many of us have felt this way. Don’t overthink it. Identify what you care about, then ask yourself why. And ask why again. Your mission lives here.

What do you stand for you?

This will shift as we grow and have new experiences, but with each phase of life, we need to tune into our values. Let your values anchor you in your decision making. And feel good about the decisions you make.

What walls do you need to knock down?

Is it fear? And fear of what exactly? Rejection? Criticism? Success? Failure? Change? Often times we’re “afraid” but of what we’re not exactly sure. There’s a ton of options to pick from. Identify your fear, then befriend it because it’s not going anywhere.

When do you feel like sh**?

If you feel like sh**, you’ll produce sh**. Be aware of your energy levels, and take care of your health. Our energy is sacred, and health – both physical and mental – are the foundation to creating anything of value, to tap into what’s uniquely our talent.

Are you confident?

If you don’t believe in you, no one will. Lack of confidence doesn’t only hurt the opportunities that come our way, it’s simply no fun. While it’s easy to say “get confident,” you can only do so if you do the hard work – if you can understand the walls you have to knock down, and how you need to grow to knock them down appropriately.

What makes you you?

This year someone told me being “nice” is my superpower. Although I felt extremely grateful, I also thought, How hard is it to be nice? However, I fully embrace it and am grateful that someone thinks of me this way. It’s important to get clear on what makes you uniquely you. Then leverage that characteristic for every part of your work because that’s how you’ll stand out. That’s how you’ll build a sustainable, authentic brand.  

What do you struggle with?

Go back to the walls you need to knock down. What are your weaknesses, areas that you can afford to grow in?  Leverage what you know and find solutions for the rest.

In Conclusion: To Overcome Failure

Self awareness and inquiry are the foundation to doing meaningful, impactful work, to leading with creativity, to finding new solutions, and to generally knowing what the hell is going on in our heads. These are some of my key lessons in 2016, learned as a result of painful experiences and past mistakes, and then taking responsibility for those mistakes. I’ll be taking them with me in 2017, and I’ll be using them to launch the next phase of Work Bigger. I hope you’ll join me!

What kind of failure have you experienced? And what have you done to overcome it? Share your thoughts and questions with us in the comments below. 

Belma McCaffrey

Author Belma McCaffrey

More posts by Belma McCaffrey

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