A scene from the 90s hit sitcom Home Improvement about parenting and dealing with children’s problems has stuck with me for years. As he often did, the father figure, Tim Taylor, sought advice from his eccentric neighbor, Wilson. In this episode, Wilson’s point was that parents deal with little problems when their kids are little. But as kids grow, so do the size of their problems. Thankfully, parents are then more prepared to handle their children’s bigger struggles because they gained experience from helping their children solve the smaller problems.
To boil it down, dealing with little problems early on readies us to handle big problems down the road.
This commentary on the struggles of parenting can extend to professional failure that you might face during a career transition, in a job, or in school.
Let us thank hardship
We should be thankful for failure. Thankful for hardship. Thankful for rejection. Young adults should hope they encounter a challenge while in high school. We should hope we get rejected a time or two from something we apply to while in college. Young professionals should hope their first job isn’t their ideal one (there’s only one way to go after you reach “ideal,” after all).
We must appreciate the occasional bout of failure because it teaches us and prepares us for the oftentimes more complicated situations we’ll be in as we age.
Is it easier to deal with getting a resounding “No” when we apply to an internship during college, or after we’ve been searching for a job for 6 months and have a spouse and children to provide for?
Encountering hardship steels us, makes us stronger. It gives us thicker skin and an ability to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and carry on after we fall.
Learn resilience early
But what happens if we aren’t challenged and don’t face failure until we are midway into our careers? If we always succeed, then the time we finally do fall (and everyone falls at some point) will be harder because we might not have as strong of a psychological safety net to catch us. Our egos might bruise more easily. Our confidence may become shaky. We may end up swimming in a pool of self-doubt.
I’ve seen brilliant people face their first true professional hardship when they were in their mid-30s. Before that, they excelled in everything academically and professionally. Our first inclination might be jealousy because it seems they had such an easy time. (I’m guessing these people sailed through calculus, unlike how I limped along.)
But think about that again. Would you really want to face your first gut-wrenching professional hardship when you’re in your mid-30s? By that age, many people’s hardships and failures have a ripple effect because they are more likely to be in a serious relationship and or have children. Rather than a job loss meaning losing a vacation, a job loss might mean a child going without. Wouldn’t it be better to be able to think about a time you’ve been through something similar and know you’ll eventually come out on top?
Those reference points can offer you a quiet confidence. You might mutter overused but poignant statements such as “this ain’t my first rodeo” and “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Concepts of failure and struggle are, of course, relative. But there are a handful of professional or academic difficulties I faced that have made me stronger and have built my confidence and internal wherewithal. As I reflect on these situations, all but one are blips on the screen of life.
Be proud of overcoming struggle
When I’ve been in the thick of struggle and hardship, I would never have wished what I was going through on anyone. But I look back at those moments with pride. Those challenges taught me oh-so-much. And resilience stays with you.
So far, my most challenging day as a business owner has not yet compared to how I felt in those situations.
But that day will come. It’s inevitable that I will face a professional hardship at a time when my life is more complicated than before because my business is my professional livelihood and it provides not only for myself but also for my family.
Perhaps my hardship or failure will rear its ugly head in the form of self-doubt or an unhappy client. Whatever it is, I know I can handle it. I did it before, and I’ll do it again.
The one reason to embrace, and dare I say appreciate, hardship is because it prepares us for what we face in the future, whether that is personal or professional. We should hope the first bump in the road we face is not Mount Everest.