Lessons From Failing

By Kathleen McAuliffe, Guest Blogger

Like most writers, writing isn’t a choice but a necessary outlet for my hyperactive imagination and intense emotions. I spent night after night filling notebooks with stories. Once I began to research colleges, majoring in journalism and eventually writing for ESPN motivated my academic success. But once I was accepted to an “elite” school, I encountered external pressure to make good on my prestigious degree with a lucrative job. With newspapers more endangered than the auto industry, I swallowed my dreams and settled for few extracurricular roles in social media communications. But ignoring a self defining passion is like spraining your own ankle and trying to walk on it. You can physically move yourself from Point A to Point B, but not without altering your stride and shouldering the nagging pain. Unfortunately, I limped along for two years of college until my junior year internship search.   

To say that my school is preprofessional is to say that Chicago winters are a little nippy. During internship recruiting season, students gossip about firms as if they’re people. “I hope McKinsey likes me,” “Bain’s more edgy than Deloitte.” Thus, as a junior with a highish GPA and low bank balance, my pursuit of that sacred junior year internship consumed my every thought. I dedicated every free moment to micromanaging my resume (12 point or 10 pt font?) or surfing my school’s career board for "marketing internship chicago." Or "consulting internship chicago." Or "human resources internship chicago." A drifting psychology major uninspired by research, I desired financial security above all else. Any internship would, through experience, provide me better insight into what I actually wanted to do. Right?


Unsurprisingly, cover letters required engagement in serious verbal gymnastics as I twisted my psych major and social media experience into “relevant skills.” Probably because of my GPA, I landed at least two preliminary interviews per week. At first, the steady stream of interest validated my choice. But no matter how fastidiously I had prepared, the "why this role?" question sent me into a blank paralysis because the truth “I’ve got bills, yo" wasn’t likely to impress. I’d recite a sensible answer from the script I’d prepared for myself, but I was limping and if my lack of interview success was any indication, they could tell. By April, my desperation mounting, I interviewed for a marketing research position despite my previous hatred of research. When offered the role, I accepted immediately out of pure relief.

Hours later, ambivalence and dread had taken its place. I could punch numbers for 12 weeks if necessary, but the thought of devoting 40 hours per week for the rest of my life to research gnawed at an unreachable part of my mind and I felt my mistake on a physical level. Frustrated, I tried to identify things that I wouldn’t mind doing for 40 hours per week.

Social media communications. Writing essays and obsessing over thoughtfully considering 20 ways to articulate a thought. Devouring and analyzing the news. Once I allowed myself to remember the endless afternoons spent making up stories as a child, I knew my decision had been made.

This summer, instead of making spreadsheets or analyzing tax data, I’ll be writing blog and magazine posts and sending lots of tweets. I’ve finally accepted my passion, and I feel infused with unparalleled enthusiasm for the future as a result. But I was only free to rediscover my calling because I’d “failed” in so many interviews previously.

Failure can be crushing, but it can also guide you away from mistakes and toward your destiny.

Let's Chat! How has failure led to a revelation or positive change in YOUR life? Tell us here!

About Kathleen

KATHLEEN_MCAULIFFE.jpgKathleen is a psychology major living in Chicago, her favorite place in the world. Aside from writing, she is obsessed with the news and social media, as well as running and overall fitness. She dreams of living somewhere on a beach once she graduates, but after studying abroad in Europe she wants to explore everywhere.

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