Dealing with Failure: Second Mile Engineering Award

So this past week I heard back from an Award Application I had submitted. Needless to say my application was not successful. HUGE Bummer. Low-blow. I worked my butt off, polished the essays, filled in the forms, reviewed, edited, reviewed, edited x2; everything I could to make sure it was PERFECT. Essentially, I played by the rules truly and felt that I deserved to win. But reality took another course.

So why didn’t I win? What else could I’ve done? Maybe I could have had friends peer review the essay. Perhaps I could have went to the office to introduce myself to the judges in person. Maybe it was too late for that, and I should have done “more stuff” throughout 1st and 4th year. Honestly, there are tons of ways to rationalize all the reasons why I didn’t get this award. But there are 2 ways to deal with this experience. I can feel sorry for myself. Or I can learn from it.

In the spirit of growth, let’s make this a lesson.

Lesson 1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

After all these years I felt I was finally ready to apply to one of these “merit” awards and win it. So, I applied to this one. THIS only one. But this 1 award can only take 1 winner. So why didn’t I apply to 3 or 5 of these merit wards and increase my chances of winning? By placing all my bets on this one, I was on a “Go Big or Go Home” mission. I could’ve probably even used the same application in other ones, if I were really strapped for time.

Lesson 2. “Bend” the rules, don’t break them.

Now that I think of it, the judging panel are all faculty members who have limited exposure with students. They probably have no clue who 90% of the applicants are. Even a little bit of exposure, perhaps stopping by to say hi and following up to inform that I have submitted my application, small things like that could have made a world of a difference. It’s not cheating. It’s more like “social engineering with the goal of making the judges more inclined to review my application”.

Lesson 3. Luck isn’t a strategy, but it’s more important than we think.

This reminds me of a joke my dad told me once:

An employee and his boss are reviewing hundreds and hundreds of job applications, in search of the best candidate. The Boss, takes the full stack of applications, splits it in half and dumps one half straight into the garbage bin. He didn’t even look at a single application in the pile. The employee, confused, asks his boss, “Sir, why would you throw away all of those candidates?”, in an attempt to understand the barbaric move by his boss. His boss responds, “In this world there are unlucky and lucky people. I’d rather work with lucky ones.”

As foolish of a joke as it is, it goes to show that the world runs on many different factors. Merit, effort, achievements, hard work all count, but a lot of times luck is important in playing the winning hand.

Lesson 4. So what?

In the end, this might feel like a failure, but it really isn’t. Being selected from a committee or not, makes no difference to how proud anyone should feel about their merits and their impact. The funny part, is that we value our own efforts by the perception of our peers and devalue our own work when we’re not recognized. But this isn’t true. Winning or not winning this award has very little impact on my future career, life and personal development. It’s not a roadblock or even a tiny little “speed bump”. Heck, it isn’t even a red light.

Lesson 5: What really matters

In the end, life goes on. It’s important to keep focused on our projects, our passions and our personal fulfillment. I’ve still got great friends who care about me just as much as they did before. I’ve got an incredible family, who’s always there to support me. And I’m still kicking butt and killing it in my last year of school. With so many other incredible things in my life, why focus on such a petty experience?

Moving on…

So when life’s “failures” feel like a slap in the face, just remember to shift your focus to the things that really matter. Staying driven, passionate, ambitious, and humble matter. Getting recognition, awards, press coverage, and accolades don’t matter. They feel GREAT. But they don’t matter. Not a single bit. The quicker we remember that and get over the sulky feeling of “failure”, the faster we can get to working on our projects, building cool things, having fun times, and doing the things that make us happy.

Cheers to your continued success!!

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