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Failure is a Dirty Word

Don't be fooled by failure's tricks

Failure is such a dirty word.

It always has such a misconstrued partnership with “being done” or “being over”. I mean, the poor word never stands a chance.

But “failure” actually comes from the Latin “fallere” meaning “to deceive”, which is much more fitting because if we can see through failure’s mask into the opportunity it gives us to learn, grow and succeed - we will be nothing but unstoppable.

Here’s a story:

In 2021 I decided to take the boards in Toxicology. The test takes a year to study for, is a half day exam, and there are no real “practice” resources other than the ones created by those who have already taken the exam.

The boards are in October every year - one exam - one shot - hit or miss. You submit the application in January and you find out if you are accepted in June, two months before the deadline to pay the remaining fee to sit for them. So in a sense, you study for 10 months not ever knowing if you are going to be eligible to sit for the boards, and if you are not then you have to wait another year to apply again.

I put the application together with all the info required to show that I met those qualifications, paid the $400 application fee, and submitted it in January 2022.

In June, I got a letter saying that I was not eligible to sit because the board had disqualified six years of experience as not meeting the requirement of “active practice of toxicology”.

My heart sank. This was the next step for my career, this was my defining moment. At the time, I had put in 10 years of hard work including studying for the past 10 months to be told that it wasn’t good enough.

I thought, now what? Well first I thought, wtf, then I thought, now what?

It was a long shot, but I decided to appeal the decision.

I just felt so much frustration and anger, not because I was deemed ineligible, but because I truly believed in my heart of hearts that the experience they said was not legit was legit.

I wrote them an appeal letter and in it I said, and I quote, “If experience like that is not considered “active practice of toxicology”, then I believe a reconsideration of what constitutes “active practice of toxicology” is warranted.”

It was bold, but what did I have to lose?

One month later, I received a letter saying they did reconsider my experience and that I was in fact eligible to sit. That October I took the boards and passed with flying colors, finally becoming a board-certified toxicologist.

The Takeaway:

I could have accepted the original decision of being ineligible, ultimately having accepted that I failed to meet the requirements to take the exam.

But how deceiving!

Imagine if I hadn’t appealed? I would have labeled myself a failure, my experience a failure, my application a failure, my studying a failure and I would've had to wait another year and a half to the take the exam.

Instead, I saw failure for it was - an opportunity to grow, to learn, to gain confidence, to be bold.

How can we change our focus of failure in this way?

  1. Get mad. Anger fuels me so feverishly than anything I’ve ever felt. Once the switch flips to anger, I become unstoppable in pursuit of changing my circumstances. I get so mad at where I am that I find any way to get somewhere else.

  2. Think in solutions. When that first letter came in, I could’ve sat there and listed all the reasons why they were right and I was the problem. But I didn’t. Instead, I thought in solutions - “what is my next step”? That mindset allowed me to see the problem as the problem, and me as the solution.

  3. Failure is not real. Failure is deceiving, making you think you’ve got nowhere else to go, but it’s not true. Don’t fall for it’s tricks. Failure is not an obstacle - it’s a doorway. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find the knob. Ask yourself: what is the real goal here and how can I get there?

I know you’ve heard it: failing is the name of the game of success because it is how we learn and grow. But we can only seize that opportunity by training ourselves to see past failure’s mirror.

When you face failure, stop for a minute and think about what you’re actually seeing.

It is never the end.

It is always a beginning.

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
Friedrich Nietzsche


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