Had I not experienced this gut-wrenching failure, I wouldn’t have become the woman and coach I am today. That is the gift of failure.
With trembling hands and heart beating wildly, I stood holding a letter from the Coaches Training Institute.
If I passed my oral certification exam, this would be a congratulatory letter. If I failed, the envelope would contain a letter describing the rescheduling process. The oral exam, where I demonstrated my coaching ability with a master coach, was the final step in a two-year journey to complete certification as a Life Coach.
The decision to become a Life Coach was the result of an ‘awakening’, as I emerged from a twenty-three year marriage into my new life as a single divorced woman.
Tired of merely surviving for so many years, I was ready to thrive, to live my most vibrant and passionate life. I wanted to reach my potential and make a bigger impact. I yearned to help others do the same through my work as a coach.
Opening the Envelope
My heart sunk as I opened the envelope and learned that I failed the exam. It was challenging for me to get through my day as an art teacher at the sleep-away camp where I was working that summer. I was grateful for the distraction of a busy afternoon.
Later that evening, alone in the quiet of my room, my failure hit me hard. I can be very uncomfortable with extreme emotions, and I occasionally side-step important feelings to just get on with my life. That may work in the short run, but over time, it catches up and takes its toll.
As I sat in my room ready to experience whatever I was feeling, anger bubbled to the surface.
I was angry with myself for not passing; mad at the hundreds of dollars it would cost me to repeat the exam. I blamed the examiner who could have cut me some slack. I was feeling helpless and stuck, and with my next breath, I breathed in my shame. I felt my cheeks flush with embarrassment. So many had counted on me to pass my exam. What would they think of me now?
A few deep breaths later, I realized these were only thoughts, stuff I was making up in my head.
I swallowed my pride and began the difficult process of calling my loved ones to tell them I failed. It took more courage to tell people I wasn’t as close to, but I mustered up the strength to expose my failure, determined to learn and grow from the experience. The act of speaking about it made it less embarrassing, and everyone was supportive.
Ultimately, I realized it was my performance anxiety that held me back from being fully connected with my examiners.
I was so busy worrying about being a smart masterful coach that I got in my own way. I was so self-conscious that I became less conscious of the person I was coaching. I made it more about performance than connection. And that is lousy coaching! It’s definitely not indicative of the level of coaching I was capable of.
My performance anxiety goes way back to elementary school when I wouldn’t raise my hand for fear of being wrong.
I was so quiet and shy that my concerned parents took me to a psychiatrist to make sure I was okay. Turns out I was fine, just afraid of being embarrassed in public for making a mistake.
This self-sabotaging behavior has kept me small and safe for most of my life, but failing my exam was about to shock me out of this limiting behavior and launch me into a very important passage of life.
Learning from Failure
Nearly a week after opening that fateful letter, I was already looking at the bright side of failure, proactive and learning from my mistakes. I scheduled the exam so it would be just a few weeks away. I found an amazing new coach who began helping me deal with my performance anxiety and my self-judging saboteur.
Most importantly, I accessed my deepest core, my creative artistic self, as part of my healing.
The night I learned I didn’t pass the exam, I went into the ceramics room at camp. I took a blob of clay and set it before me. I deliberately chose not to make a functional piece, which was a stretch for me, the super-practical, everything-must-have-meaning artist.
I once heard Michelangelo would stare at a piece of stone until the form would reveal itself.
I, too, spent some time staring at my blob until suddenly I knew what I needed to create. My saboteur began revealing itself in the clay. I first created an image of a screaming face with hollow eyes. And then the face began to change. The eyes became angrier, the mouth widened. The face transformed over and over, until I ended up with a Buddha-like creature with a calm but powerful expression, slanted eyes, a bald head with pointy ears over a squat body with arms folded loosely over a chubby belly.
There was an endearing kindness to his face. He reminded me a little of my father. My ‘Buddha’ possessed an inherent strength and loving concern. The act of creating this Buddha-like creation taught me the importance of loving and embracing all of me (not just the ‘good’ parts), and to give myself permission to accept and process all that comes up for me around painful emotions.
A few days later, I brought my sculpture to an outdoor firing process known as ‘Raku’. It uses lower fire, and it’s much faster than standard indoor kiln-firing.
I put him into the flames where he underwent many chemical changes. Smoke billowed out from around the fire pit. The outdoor kiln reached over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit in a very short time, and when the piece was removed, it was bright orange, like molten lava. It was then smothered in sawdust in a large tin garbage can and covered until it cooled off.
The whole process of transformation, of going through extreme temperature changes, was exceedingly cathartic to me. I felt like my inner critic was being raked through the coals and morphed into something positive that I could integrate into my life. I was changing as my sculpture went through its metamorphosis.
I had no idea what my piece would look like in the end, and I loved not knowing the outcome. This was the important last step in the creation of my healing sculpture; letting go of expectations. It is what I most needed in moving past my saboteur.
I learned I needed to let go of perceived outcome and stay more present in my life. True power lies in keeping the present alive.
It took a new kind of courage and a quieting of self-sabotaging thoughts about embarrassment and judgment to be bold enough to face my failure and speak about it openly.
What I Now Know About Failure
I firmly believe if we do not risk, we will not move forward. And if we risk, we will most certainly fail some of the time. Failure can be a wonderful and powerful gift. I am making it my business to become an expert at learning from failure, and most importantly, an expert at connecting myself to my inner core, my full potential as a human. It is only through this connection that I can help others connect to their essence, their true potential, and live their best life.
Had I not heeded the call to learn and grow from this tough experience of failure, I would not have become the woman I am today, someone who refuses to stay small, who is not limited by circumstance, but rather uses each life lesson as a stepping stone to a life well-lived. That is the ultimate gift of failure.
Oh, and I passed the exam the second time. Becoming a certified life coach was one of the best decisions of my life. And failing the first time made me a far better coach!
When have you risked and failed? How has failure impacted your life? Please share your story, because in sharing, we help each other grow.