Failure and the Winding Road to Success

Failure and the Winding Road to Success

My mother grew up in a strict southern household where she had to be beautiful, smart, talented, and perfectly behaved at every moment. There was little room for failure. Although I grew up in a very different environment in rural Vermont, my mother carried on those strict expectations with me. She emphasized the importance of perfect grades – we were poor and I needed a scholarship to get through college. To me, an A minus was cause for distress. When I experienced my first big failure (not getting into my top choice of university for undergrad), I didn’t know how to deal with it.

Now, as an adult, I understand that experiencing failure is crucial to an individual’s growth. Not getting into my top choice for university was an important learning experience. It showed me that my failure was not the end of the world. In fact, the result was even better than what I originally wanted – I ended up getting into another university where my tuition was lower and I was on scholarship. My failed marriage taught me what I want and don’t want in a partnership. The rejections I’ve experienced as an author have made me resilient in the face of adversity, and more driven to succeed.

My failures at GLS have taught me hard lessons, too.

Last year, I wrote a grant application that was denied because I didn’t read the delivery directions well enough. The format to submit the application was very strict and, worried about the content of the grant more than anything else, I failed to read the fine print at the beginning of the proposal. My supervisor, the Executive Director, was the one who received the rejection notice. I was devastated. It was a big loss for the organization, and it was my fault.

For a while, I was super down on myself. With any grant funded organization, a failure to secure funding may mean someone’s position gets cut. In this case, we were able to find funding elsewhere, but the fear and stress I felt over potentially impacting someone else’s life was overwhelming. For a while, I didn’t want to write grants anymore. Let someone else write them, I wanted to say. This is too much pressure!

Eventually, though, I began using that moment as a learning experience. Now, I read the instructions for each of my grants multiple times. I remember that sting of failure every time I submit a proposal, and I’m that much more careful because of it.


*original photo here


Everyone makes mistakes. Our staff can’t be successful one hundred percent of the time. Sometimes, clients choose to dismiss their case. Sometimes they change their goals after filing their case, or even after a final order is granted. Sometimes there are default judgements or summary judgements entered against us. Sometimes when we don’t win, it feels like the end of the world. But I like to think that failure can be an important teacher.

We humans have good memories, and most of us harbor the desire to change and grow. GLS is a place of growth and change, too. Over the years, we have changed leadership, updated our policies and procedures, gained new grants, and lost others. Sometimes, I can sense the memories of our past failures when I interact with staff – failure is heavy and hard to let go of. Still, there is also a lot of optimism in this office, and a sincere desire to do better.

This year, I hope to keep learning from my mistakes (preferably not in the form of rejected grants, though). I hope my colleagues keep their heads up, even in the face of adversity, and give themselves grace through their own mistakes.

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

― Maya Angelou

Here’s to a prosperous 2020 full of growth and knowledge.