-by Caitlin Koppelman-

A few years back, a friend and coworker gave me a print out as a gift to hang in my office. It has this quote on it: “The expert in anything was once a beginner”. When she first gave it to me, I was almost offended by the phrase. I thought to myself, “Oh yeah? Well, maybe that applies to some people, but I’m no beginner. I’m the exception.  I’ve got this!”. I realize now what a lack of maturity that was on my part. You see, my wise friend knew that I’d just taken an important risk in my career. She knew that I’d need the day-by-day encouragement of this little piece of paper to keep me from being afraid to fail. There was only one problem: I hadn’t actually failed at anything …yet. Mostly because I hadn’t really tried.

Those first few weeks, it was easy to slide by – hiding behind other responsibilities in my job, and avoiding those new things I knew would be difficult for me and increase my probability of failure. Eventually it started to bother me: I wasn’t even trying to be the professional I had said I wanted to be. I was hiding. Strangely enough, this fact didn’t seem to bother anyone else. It was clear that I couldn’t wait for others to motivate me beyond the fear of failing. The only solution was to grab some courage, mix it with some integrity, and take a leap!

Risking in private is one thing, but risking with witnesses — that’s character development. Expertise is gained by repeated practice. Failure is the most common result of practice. It sounds like an unfortunate and bothersome byproduct, but failure builds the character necessary to maintain success. A favorite saying of a colleague of mine is, “it took me 30 years to be an overnight success”.

Risk has rewards. Failure is a sharp tool and though it’s often painful, it’s quite efficient. You can’t avoid it and achieve growth – might as well embrace it and hang on for the ride! Keep others by your side who have also embraced this ability to “fail-forward”. They’ll help you process the failure correctly and remind you to get back up when you feel like giving up. Oh, and it is true, no expert started out that way. 

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