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What I learned from failure

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Is that it’s not fun.

A “Medill F” is when you immediately fail for any factual errors or misspelled names in an article. If I were being graded, I would have had a dozen Medill F’s.

Yesterday, I found myself making pretty unforgivable journalistic errors: spelling names and company names wrong, almost missing deadline, taking shaky film. This might seem like nothing to you: But this is the difference between a professional and an amateur, and yesterday, I was an amateur. Not to mention, I lost just a little bit of credibility.

After 8 months of Medill, I thought I’d be creating work that I was proud of, and finding stories that I would love to cover. Though I loved the story I had and the people that I filmed and interviewed — the misspelled names and shaky film did not do them justice.

It made me wonder if I was in the right field. If I could ever be great.

I came into the newsroom yesterday morning having to change my story and make new sources in 20 minutes to film – after being rejected and flaked out on over 30 times in the last 24 hours. It just felt like someone was kicking at my heels and ankles over and over.

I sat in a silent, empty newsroom by 7 pm – just thinking back on my work. My video wasn’t perfect – but it was finished. “What is done, is done,” I thought, realizing that you can’t really be upset over what has already happened. It’s not like I could have rewound the day and re-taken the video, or re-published.

So what was there to be proud of?

No matter how many obstacles I encountered throughout the day: I stayed positive and embraced them. I can’t say that would necessarily be the case 8 months ago. And I know that the people I met throughout the day – the pizza shop owners, my video partner, my professors and my friends had all appreciated me a little bit more for it – because just as a bad attitude can ruin someone’s day, a good attitude can be that much more inspiring. And I realized:

People may forgive you for creating bad work – but they might not forgive you for being a bad person.

And at the end of the day, the work you create may be important, yes: But the person you are is far more important.

And my goal had changed – to not just create inspiring work, but to be inspiring.

Today was far different than yesterday. I walked into an interview, and listened. The interview was with Chicago entrepreneur John Roa, who I read about for hours this morning when I woke up.  Maybe it’s the kind of day I was having. I was seeking some lessons that I needed to hear about. I asked him about failure.

“I think success is very dangerous,” he said, adding that sometimes, he even starts on a journey that sets him up to fail. It’s because success will lead you on the same road again because you assume you’re doing something right. You’ll do the same thing again in a different situation, when really you should be constantly molding yourself to something new.

People always say that you learn the most from failure, but I’m still figuring out how to do this the right way. Unlike Roa, failure isn’t comfortable for me, though maybe that’s because I’m a bit younger and each time I fail, I’m still falling onto concrete.

But whether it’s comfortable or not, there are two very important things about failure – that it makes you stronger, and that it makes you a better person.

If you can’t find comfort in that, it’s because failure isn’t supposed to be comfortable, it’s supposed to be human. And, I think, the truest greatness can be found in just that.

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