Have you ever experienced the feeling of failure? The one that’s like a knot in your stomach; you can even feel it physically. The feeling you get when you miss the mark, let people down…let yourself down.
I know all about it. In fact, the feeling is recent. It was at the National Association of Realtors Conference in San Francisco.
The failure I experienced was in front of a crowd. In front of my team…which made it feel infinitely worse.
I had been preparing to speak at the conference for months. I was beyond excited. It wasn’t my first time speaking at the National Real Estate Convention, but a lot had changed since I last spoke. In the year leading up the conference, I had launched my personal brand website, released a new inspirational video, and took on a host of speaking engagements that I knocked out of the ballpark. I’d been working really hard to make my dream a reality; the dream of telling my story across the world and seeing women empowered to overcome adversity and find the success and freedom that’s waiting for them. Every day I have more desire to see that happen, and my resolve gets stronger.
This conference, for me, represented the opportunity to take my dream to another level. I was one of only a very few speakers in the country who was chosen to promote the conference, which was a huge honor. Speaking at NAR was a chance to bring my story to an incredible audience, at an event that really is unparalleled in the real estate world. It was starting to feel like all of my hard work and determination were leading somewhere. This was going to be a launchpad for me to go skyward from.
Except……..I bombed. I really bombed.
Maybe not by everyone’s standards, but I did by mine, 100%. To me, it felt like I faceplanted on the stage.
In the 48 hours leading up to my talk, I suddenly became very ill. At first, I thought it was jet lag or possibly something I ate, but after 24 hours of not eating, I knew that I must have the flu or something similar. I couldn’t believe it…I NEVER get sick!
Here I was….in San Fran with my team…. laying in my hotel room bed alone while they were cruising the city without me. I remember moving from one bed to another because my sheets were a pool of sweat and I was cold…yet I had a high fever…(apologies for the details…). I was so sick that I could not even stand up in the shower to wash my hair. I called my husband crying and he told me that I had to cancel my presentation and that I would be crazy if I didn’t.
BUT…If you know me at all, you know that there was NO way I was going to let something like this stop me from doing what I had set out to do. I came to California to speak and I was going to speak, and that was that.
So that’s what I did. I spoke.
At the advice of a trusted friend, I didn’t tell the audience how ill I was. In fact, I don’t think my friend realized how ill I was. Had I told the audience, it might have gotten me some sympathy points, and perhaps a few less-harsh reviews (more on that in a bit)… but I took that advice and decided to do what I had set out to do….inspire, motivate, and give hope.
In hindsight, I don’t know if that was the right move or not.
What I do know is that I could barely string my thoughts together. I felt scrambled, foggy, and so far off my game. My fever was still so high that Sweat was rolling down my face while I was speaking and my hair was literally soaked in the back. I felt like I could barely stand up. My voice was hoarse and I was nervous that the audience could even understand me at times. I got through 32 agonizing minutes and I was done (I was supposed to speak for one hour!).
I walked off the stage and all I could feel was the weight of my own expectations for myself, and the pain of knowing that I was not able to come close to meeting them. I felt like I let everyone down. My team had never actually heard me speak at a live event until then, and the embarrassment that I felt knowing that they saw me in that form was the kind that feels like it won’t ever go away.
When I returned back to Augusta, My doctor diagnosed me with walking pneumonia and I had lost 7 pounds in five days. I stayed in bed for the next few days until the antibiotics started to work.
Much to my surprise, I did get a lot of amazing feedback afterward. One lady posted that I was the reason she flew to California and that I exceeded all of her expectations. And my assistants told me that they knew this was not my best talk, but my presentation wasn’t nearly as bad as I made it out to be…and that I was just being hard on myself.
But I knew…It was plain and simple…awful, a letdown, and an embarrassment. I was so far off the bar that I set for myself and while I appreciated the kind words from friends and peers, I don’t know if any amount of encouragement could have helped all of me not feel like just throwing in the towel. It took me weeks to come to grips with what I had done, or rather not done.
I also got some really negative feedback. I read all of it, the good and the bad, and did my best to absorb it humbly. One lady said that I was a complete disappointment ending my talk after only 32 minutes. Even though she was pretty harsh, I knew she was right. I wanted to acknowledge her and the audience’s experience for what it was and learn from it.
Here’s the thing, though, and the reason I’m writing about this. I know many really intelligent and thoughtful people talk about how failure isn’t a real thing; that it’s all just a learning process and the things we see as failures are just opportunities to learn and grow in the journey. I believe all of that. But I also know that while it’s happening, the failure feels very real. It’s not easily shrugged off and explained away by logic or motivational quotes. When you feel like you’ve failed and all you want to do is give up, it takes some time to build yourself back up and that is ok. It takes facing the failure and staring it right in the eyes and acknowledging it for what it is, but choosing in that moment to not let it have the final word.
After I took some time and gave myself permission to feel what I felt, I learned some things about myself and this journey. I learned that the path is not always going to feel like a straight line even when you think you have it all figured out. I learned that taking two steps back isn’t the end of the world, especially when you can look back and see the three steps forward that you took before it. I learned that I’m going to have some “off” days…and that’s ok and that’s just life. I learned that acknowledging when we miss the mark, feeling the pain, getting back up and trying again is how we really grow and take real steps forward.
Thanks for reading!