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Redefining Failure

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A few months ago, I saw this Twitter post. I LOVED it. I have read so many pieces about women’s fear of failure; this Elle piece does a nice job of exploring some of the reasons why we hesitate. And, I know that women tend to wait until they have all of the qualifications before applying for a job (and that men, well, don’t). But this Tweet really brought the concept home for me in such a practical way: take more chances.

I also really like this quotation from Mary Pickford, a groundbreaking American actress: “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” The idea that we shouldn’t let one setback stop us is so clear, and yet, I cannot tell you how many really wonderful women I know who struggle with this concept.

I wish people talked more about the failures that were their steps to success. Recently at a conference, a speaker shared, almost offhandedly, how he wrote fifteen grants before his first one got funded. On Twitter, I have seen more than one “failure CV,” which is basically a list of someone’s unsuccessful attempts and rejected applications. In those instances, I so appreciated the reminder that failure is not a dirty word, and that getting it right often entails getting it wrong – multiple times – first.

Take this blog, for instance. Four years ago I started collecting articles about women and medicine, leadership, confidence, and work-life balance, which I shared with family and friends over email. A little over a year ago, a colleague and I decided to compile them into a website. Then she got busy with work, so I learned to operate Squarespace on my own. After many hours of failed formatting – I am not that tech savvy – I had a clear work-in-progress, and that passion project ultimately led me to the amazing opportunity to write here.

In the end, I believe redefining failure comes down to two key principles: try more, and be persistent about trying more. Not everything will work out, but almost certainly, something (or some things) will. We just have to keep at it. So be brave – as Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, defines it: courage is persisting alongside the fear.

Author: Lakshmi S. Tummala, MD, FACC

Lakshmi S. Tummala, MD, FACC

Lakshmi is a staff cardiologist at the DC VA Medical Center, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Georgetown and George Washington Universities. She is passionate about women in medicine and excited to share her thoughts and experiences as she navigates the novel opportunities and accompanying challenges of an early career. Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are hers alone, and sharing resources does not equal endorsement.


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