The first time I ever heard this particular quote was when I was on mandatory sick leave after having a Lupus flare so bad that it sent me to the ER. I was taking an afternoon walk and listening to an episode of the TED Radio Hour on Disruptive Leadership that included interviews with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg , author Seth Godin, and Four-star general Stanley McChrystal among others. I was intrigued by the entire podcast but this quote came from General McChrystal and it stuck with me. Why? Because for the better part of my life my father has been trying to convince me of this very thing. At this point you might be wondering what kind of “made for TV, Lifetime movie, this girl needs therapy” life I led over the past 43 years and all I can say is “a challenging one.” No. It certainly wasn’t all bad but if there was a cinematic feature made of my life it would have a lot of sequels that all started like this:
I wasn’t a complete screw up but let’s just say that failing is something I know a little bit about. We’re not going to get into all the stories associated with why I am well versed in this subject (and there are many, many, MANY) but I do want to share one/
So, in 1990 this was me:
Go ahead. Take as much time as you need to get your chuckles out. I’ll wait (But my Wave Nouveau WAS banging).
Anyway, that was me in 1990 1 month before I graduated from high school with a hand full of acceptance letters…and six months before I found myself back at home because I flunked out of college. Now I’m not going to tell you all of the reasons why THIS failure has always been the most painful one (which, if I REALLY explained my life story would cause you to be straight confused because I have PLENTY that are a lot worse) but let me put it this way: flunking out of college after attending a predominately white school + being chosen to give the senior speech that year * winning the highest award at my high school = The Ghosts of “WTF” stick with me most of my life.
On the day my father and I had to drive down to the dorm and pack up all of my stuff he took me to Burger King for lunch. I remember quite vividly ugly crying into my Whopper with Cheese while my father just watched me. Now, I couldn’t look him in the eye but I knew he was looking at me because I could feel his eyes boring into the top of my freshly juiced curls. I was way past embarrassed. I was ashamed (Did I mention my parents were both unemployed when I applied for school and had to take out a 2nd mortgage on our house to pay the $27,000/year tuition that I had just wasted? Yup. It just gets worse doesn’t it?) As my fries turned to mush, my father, in all of his infinite wisdom said, “Chantrise, it’s going to be okay.” That’s when I looked at him but the look I gave didn’t say “Awww. Thanks Dad!” It said “@^*%$#@ are you talking about?! It is NOT going to be okay!” *Return to the ugly cry* Then, because my father has never known how to leave well enough alone, he says this: “Do you know the difference between failure and defeat? Failure means falling down and choosing to get back up. Defeat means falling down and choosing not to.” At the time, I not only felt defeated I knew I WAS defeated and here he was trying to be all philosophical. I looked back at him with the meanest narrow-eyed stare I could muster without getting slapped and projected the following thought: “Would you PLEASE just shut up?!” Of course he didn’t.
“Look. I know this hurts but you will get through this and a lot worse as you grow up but I promise it will be worth it in the end. When you earn your doctorate none of this will even matter.” Seriously sir? I mean, SERIOUSLY? Let’s recap shall we: 1) I flunked out of college, 2) I am a complete and utter failure, 3) My life is ruined as a result, 4) I’m going to be a statistic, and 5) I’m going to die of shame. But sure! Let’s talk about that doctorate degree I’m gonna get! How about NOT?!
So let’s fast forward a bit because I could literally spend the next 25 pages writing in great detail about all the truly f-ed up situations I managed to get myself in to, and out of, over the past 25 years but suffice it to say, my father was, and is, wise. He was also right. About everything. In fact, I can’t recall very many times when he has been wrong (Hi Dad. Yes. I am admitting this in print. You’re welcome.)
Experience is the gift you receive only after you’ve failed —My Dad
His statement about the difference between failure and defeat had such a profound effect on me that it became the rule by which I live. It’s the same statement I share every year with my students, especially when they fail an assignment, a class, or flunk out of college like me. See, failing at something doesn’t make you a failure. You can still fail and end up successful. It happens all the time. It happened in my life repeatedly. It still does, although with much less frequency. Why? Because if you do this whole living life right, you learn from your failings and improve. “Experience is the gift you receive only after you’ve failed.” John A. Sims, Jr. (Yes. That’s my dad. Dealing with me he had to have a lot of quotes about overcoming failure.) So go ahead and get some experience. It will be alright.
Oh, and by the way, on December 10, this happened:
See? Dad was right. Not just for me. But he was right for you too.