Picking Yourself Up After Disappointment and Failure
What if we were defined by our disappointments and failures rather than by our successes? No, seriously. Our successes are cause for celebration, but few people ever achieve success without plenty of disappointment and failure along the way. It may be that what really makes for success is picking yourself up after you’ve failed and getting on with it. How we do that is probably far more important in the scheme of things than how we step up and claim the trophy after a brilliant success.
I have been thinking about this as I consider how young people all over the world are facing the feelings of disappointment and failure that often accompany results on high stakes exams and the arrival of college admission letters.
A Really Rough Day
I’m here on the UK side of the great pond so I was present when the GCSE results were announced last week. (If you’re state-side, think Harry Potter and the O.W.L.s.) It was a high-pressure day all across the country. I can imagine households where the tension was at level 12 on a 1-10 scale. Disappointment/ Jubilation meters must have been all over the place.
In our house we had some of both—disappointment and jubilation. Results weren’t quite as high as we’d hoped in some subjects and over the top in others. The good news is that my granddaughter was admitted to a very fine school for Sixth Form.
She worked out a program that will keep her on the path to her dream of becoming an Egyptologist. But it was a rough day, nonetheless. It would have been easy to fall into feelings of disappointment and failure over the three points that marked the boundaries for her decisions. After an initial descent into gloom, she decided that what she needed was to make comfort food for dinner. She set about making mac and cheese, and I volunteered to go get the ice lollies (read popsicle if you’re state-side), also on her comfort food list.
Sometimes We All Need Orchids and Ice Lollies
When I got to the shops, I saw some lovely little orchids in a pot and decided maybe they would bring a note of cheer into the evening the way orchids cheered me when I was away from home. Think of it as another kind of comfort food–food for the soul. When I got to the checkout, I realized that the contents of my grocery basket were a bit unusual. A very young man—possibly right out of secondary school himself—was at the register. He gave the orchids and ice lollies a curious look.This is how the conversation went:
“It’s for we didn’t do quite so well as we’d hoped on the GCSEs,” I said.
“I know all about that,” he said. “I got big a lecture on how I should have applied meself.”
“But you already knew that didn’t you.”
“So you didn’t really need a lecture. Tell your parents you need orchids and ice lollies next time.”
He burst into laughter. “Yeah.” He was smiling as I left.
I hope somebody gives him orchids and ice lollies next time he feels like a failure. We usually know it when we’ve muffed it up and don’t need to be stomped on again. We need something that will help us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get on with it. Because how we deal with disappointment and failure may be one of the most important contributors to later success.
PS If I’ve sparked interest in orchids, The National Orchid Society in the UK and the American Orchid Society provide information about orchids and how to grow them as well as sponsor educational events. Perhaps the largest collection of orchids is to be found in Singapore’s National Orchid Garden.
If you’re experiencing persistent feelings of disappointment and failure there are resources that offer suggestions on how to turn things around. But if your feelings are persistent, orchids and lollies aren’t likely to help. Finding a counselor is is a much better idea.