I failed an exam last week. Failed in the truest sense of the word—50%. I'm taking a 10-week intensive sommelier training, and it turns out there's a ton to know about France and its wines.
I think it may have been the worst I ever did on a test, so it rattled me a bit at first. How could I have done so poorly? I put in eight hours of studying just one day prior to the test. But therein lies the problem—regardless of the absolute number of hours I had studied for it, I had crammed for it as opposed to putting in a few hours each day. As I raced through the pages and slides, information was at the same time flying out the open back window. I wasn’t retaining any of it.
I’ve gotten a lot of value out of viewing failure as merely a signal. When pushing ourselves in a new area, we should expect to encounter it a lot. Not because of who we are, but because of who we’re trying to be. The weeks leading up to the France exam, I was trying to manage too many things at once, and my studying suffered. I made adjustments and only missed a couple questions on my second attempt of the exam. Failure wasn’t inherently a part of me, only the way I organized my time.
I was reminded of a quote a culinary school classmate shared with me from his sous chef:
“I expect things to go wrong, and I kind of want them to.”
We had a good nervous laugh together about this one, recounting several of our own failures in the kitchen. The professional kitchen is a stressful place where even if you’ve done everything correctly to set yourself up for success, something unexpected can and will go wrong. It’s a place where failure is transparent and communal. Everyone knows who’s messed up, and everyone is affected by it. Whether or not he meant it to be, the sous chef’s one-liner is profound. To me, it reflects mastery over a situation and an internal peace that can’t be rattled by external mayhem. And it also says, if we’re not failing, we’re not pushing ourselves enough. And that would be the greatest tragedy.
Active time to complete: 3 min
Identify the last time you've failed at something: a task, a goal, a relationship, anything. Take a couple minutes to think about why the failure occurred, and whether or not it's changed your approach since.