A couple of weeks ago, I took a digital journalism course at a local New York City grad school. It was my first experience reporting i.e. walking up to strangers and asking them to be interviewed, to have their photo taken, and to provide a total stranger with their personal information. My heart raced on the first day as the reporting assignment was explained by the professors. While gathering my notepad and pen, I assured myself this wasn’t a difficult task. “I've got this,” I silently boasted. Failure wasn't an option.
On day one I failed my first assignment. Outside on the street, I’d begin to approach strangers to engage them in an interview. Head held high, I would walk toward them, and then when I got near, I’d instantly turn away and pretend to be reading the blank page of my notepad. For over an hour I did this and had the following conversation in my head: “Oh, he looks friendly and unoccupied…Make eye contact… Good. Smile. But not so hard that you look crazy. Much better. Now, walk up to him…Hello? Did you get that? You need to walk up to him. Like actually move or you'll lose this opportunity. That a girl! Keep going. Now get a little closer. Come on, closer than that. Almost there... Wait, stop. Wait! Where are you going? He’s over there. You’re walking the wrong way! What are you doing? You’re blowing your chance!”
When I returned to class empty-handed I felt a wave of shame. I was the only one to not complete the assignment. How could I be a journalist when I couldn’t even be a reporter and perform the basics of my field of interest? I thought. Was this a mistake? I wondered if this wasn’t meant to be since I clearly didn’t have what it took. For the rest of class, I entertained the thought of not going back the next day.
Later that same night, while on my walk home, I read a sign nailed to a tree: “Don’t let every win go to your head and every loss go to your heart.” In that moment, I instantly knew I was returning to class the next day. As the weeks went by, I slowly grew stronger than my fear of rejection and failure. Still, on the second to last day of classes, I felt like I was back at day one, struggling to get an interview, afraid of hearing no. No, you aren't sure about this. No, this isn't right for you. When I finally got one and returned to the studio to edit, I realized that I couldn’t use it. However, the news didn’t upset me. The interview wasn’t great, and I knew I wasn't going to settle for less than great. On the last day of session, I told myself my first interview would be my last interview no matter how long it took or how many no's I had to hear to get it. Without prompting from my professors, I went out into the street and got an interview I was excited to turn in. Sure, I was two hours late for the last class, but I walked in the room feeling like a winner.
What got me through the entire course was giving myself permission to flail and flounder, to hear “no,” and to move forward anyway. Failure became an option, which reminded me that every day I have a choice between failing and succeeding or both, so long as I got better from the choice I made. Along with some cool, digital savvy-ness, I gleaned from my new experience this: failure doesn't come from hearing or telling yourself no. It's comes when you stop yourself from getting to a yes. There will be times where we’ll be asked by life, “Are you sure you want this? Are you really sure this is the right thing for you?” We’ll be faced with challenging and uncomfortable situations whereby we will have to answer those questions not simply through our thoughts and words, but through our acts of courage. We will need to push past our fear of hearing no—from others, but especially from ourselves.