Failure is Part of Success

June 12, 2013

I did my tenth Toastmasters speech today which fulfill the requirements for a Competent Communicator Award

Here is the speech:

“Thomas Edison once said, I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. What he is referring to is a cost effective Electric light bulb. He tried 10,000 times to make it work but fell short. His attempts were experiments and he only needed one experiment to go right. Therefore he had not failed, but learned another way that didn’t work.

Success is defined as a favorable outcome. Failure is defined as a lack of success. So does that mean that failure is the opposite of success? Thomas Edison didn’t think so.

I think it depends on how we look at failure and how we act when we do fail. I believe failure plays a large part in success or becoming successful. Thomas Edison looked at failure as a learning opportunity.

Fellow Toastmasters, today I will talk about how we can overcome failure in order to use it to reach our goals.

Forgive yourself
I started smoking cigarettes when I was 15 years old. I loved smoking. A couple puffs made me nice and it was what all the cool kids were doing.
But I knew I had to quit. After college I tried to quit again. But failed. I would smoke for a few months then try again. I continued to smoke and was stuck in a cycle of smoking then trying to quit then failing to quit, repeat.
Then I finally figured out where I went wrong. If I slipped up I would beat myself up. Which then made me feel bad and caused me to smoke more. I learned to forgive myself for failing at quitting. Then if I slipped up I would try again the next day.
Not forgiving myself was destructive and stopped me from reaching my ultimate goal, to quit smoking.

Learn from your mistakes

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein

Six and half years ago when I was looking for a job I had an opportunity to have a phone interview with in Seattle Washington. This phone interview was quite intense. They asked me some pretty difficult technical questions and wanted me to explain the answers to them over the phone. I did not get the job but earned another opportunity to do a phone interview with another department. Again, was asked some technical questions that I did not have good answers to. Needless to say I did not get the job. A few days later I talked to their HR manager and he told me they like me but I did not have strong enough technical skills for the positions they were hiring for.
So what did I do next? First, I forgave myself for not doing well on the phone interviews, then I asked myself What did I do right and What did I do wrong and what could I do differently next time.
I knew my resume was good because it got the attention of a large software company. I must be able to put two words together because I landed a second chance at Amazon. What I did in the future is sharpen my technical skills by learning some basic CS concepts. I also started studying for phone interviews and face to face interviews.

Which brings me to my next point.

Avoid Failure through practice.

My studying and programming practice paid off when I went for an interview at my current employer, SEP. The interview lasted from 9am to 4pm with an hour lunch. There were 3 people in the room asking me questions while I write the answers to them on a white board.. I must have done well because they extended me an offer. I also found out later if things weren’t going well then they would not have taken me to lunch.
Practice gives us confidence. That is why most of us have joined toastmasters. To practice. So if you do have to present something to your company or get asked a difficult question in a meeting, you will succeed.

I have failed many times in public speaking. So much that I use to avoid it. Until I was asked to give a two minute speech to my entire company. I bombed the presentation and my colleague had to bail me out and add all the things I left out of the presentation. It was pretty embarrassing. So what did I do? I forgave myself, asked myself what I could improve and What am I going to do about it? I joined toastmasters to practice.
At toastmasters I found it was a safe environment to practice. It has a great support system to help you get through your failed speeches.
The first speech I gave was called the “Ice Breaker”. The purpose of this speech is to find your strengths and weaknesses. I was terrified of speaking that day but forced myself to do it. I was not happy with the speech at all. However, during that meeting the evaluator said “Your speech was well organized”. I perked up a little because I did something right! however, there were other things to work on she said “ your voice was trembling”. Well a combination of a pot of coffee and being nervous will do that to you I guess. and “you were pacing during your speech which was distracting” but she ended with “you told a story we could all relate to”. Overall I was not happy with my speech. But the feedback gave me enough confidence to get up there and try it again.

By getting positive feedback it was even easier to forgive myself because I knew I was doing something right. But there were a few things I can work on. So in my future speeches I focused on controlling my nerves and my mannerisms.

Each speech I did after that my evaluators gave me points to work on so my next speech can be even better. Just like Thomas Edison learned from his experiments that got him closer to a successful execution of the light bulb. I was doing better and better speeches.
After a half dozen speeches under my belt I was given the opportunity to make the most important speech in my life. (pause) The eulogy at my mother’s funeral. (pause)

I knew it was a success when the guitar player at church said “You inspired me to read the ‘five love languages’ again. Which is the book I referenced in the eulogy. I was pleased that my practice paid off again.

Fellow toastmasters, today I am giving my 10th speech which will complete the requirements for the competent communicator certificate. This has been a long journey but I have had good help along the way. I look forward to helping all of you reach your next Toastmasters goal. I will leave you with a quote by Albert Einstein – you only fail if you stop trying.