The Power of Failure

by Elaina

Yesterday I participated in the #npcons (Twitter chat for nonprofit consultants) chat on cranking up creativity, and a frequent theme was that true creativity results, at least occasionally, in failure. I had failing on the brain already after a recent job interview when I was asked about my biggest failure.

I’ve long seen that failure is a natural part of the learning process, and that something isn’t a complete failure if valuable lessons are learned. I also believe that the world needs more stories of failure – especially lessons learned and growth from failure – as they encourage others to risk and try new things. In that light – drumroll please – here is the story that I shared with my interviewer about my biggest fail:


The Winner: Making a cross-country move without planning.

(Short version of the backstory) About 6 years ago, I was feeling a lot of wanderlust and stagnation living in a small town, so I decided to move. Seattle had certain amenities and a large nonprofit community, but it was still largely a random choice. I picked up a couple of guidebooks for newcomers to Seattle, packed up the car and headed west.

The initial hurdle of finding a decently priced apartment was surprisingly easy, but the other hurdles proved much more difficult. I struggled to make friends and completely underestimated how hard it would be to live two time zones away from family. Seattle’s rain was much easier to deal with than its persistent cloud cover, which taught me that I am very prone to seasonal depression. The job search was pretty painful – I took temp positions, volunteered and eventually took a position that had great potential, but it veered further and further away from my intended career path the longer I stayed.

While I used this story to answer my biggest fail question, I don’t see it as a complete fail, as I learned so much from the experience. First and foremost, I learned that “family” is a key value for me, and I place that and friends at the top of my life priority list now. While I wasn’t satisfied with my job, I learned skills there that are invaluable to my clients and future employers. I learned a lot about how to take care of myself mentally when in difficult environments. I also doubt that I would have gotten into music without the orchestra that grew out of my church there. Additionally, without the community in Seattle, I wouldn’t have learned that I was secretly a rabid soccer fan. The experience was also a big contributor in my current evangelism for planning and strategy as keystones for successful projects and endeavors (example one, two, three, four…).


I have no shortage of other failure and mistake stories, and I am sure that you don’t either. However, in that I’ve learned the most from this one, it’s definitely my biggest. What is your biggest fail and/or life lesson?