I am reading ‘BECOMING’ by former First Lady Michelle Obama, and I am enjoying every word, every sentence, every paragraph. The book is beautifully narrated and provides many pauses for deep reflection. I am not quite finished yet, but I was inspired to stop and write my own thoughts on her quote: “Failure is a feeling, long before an actual result.”
She narrates her experience of going to her counsellor to express her interest in going to Princeton.
“I’m not sure.” she said, giving me the perfunctory, patronizing smile, “that you’re Princeton material.”
Has anyone ever made you feel that you are not good enough?
As I read through the next few paragraphs, I could not help but think of the vulnerable groups of people I have worked with over the years, and how often I have had to counsel them to believe that they are good enough, worthy and have the God given rights to pursue their gifts and talents and to make a meaningful contribution to this world. The newcomer population is no different and many of us who work in the sector take it on as a professional and personal mandate to help newcomers keep their faith and believe in themselves.
In one instance, I tried to work with a recruitment company in ‘selling newcomer talent’ and was bluntly told that the clients of this recruitment company were not interested in hiring newcomers. Newcomers were actually screened OUT of competitions, simply because of being a newcomer! It had nothing to do with their qualifications, skills or experience. I felt so infuriated that the system was failing newcomers, even before they had the chance to prove themselves.
I have witnessed people’s confidence spiral downwards as they fail to get screened into competitions, fail at closing interviews, fail at being told that they lack soft skills, fail at not pronouncing words ‘correctly’ or lacking cultural competencies… the list goes on and on. Sometimes, it seems that the result of failure is what happens long after a system has decided that that a person, a group of people or groups of people will fail… and somehow that expectation is fulfilled… not because of fact… but because of a long established belief in the mind and eyes of those with the power to control the decisions.
“But as I have said before, failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result. And for me, it felt like that’s exactly what she was planting – a suggestion of failure long before I’d even try to succeed. She was telling me to lower my sights, which was the absolute reverse of every last thing my parents had ever told me.”
“I wasn’t going to let one person’s opinion dislodge everything I thought I knew about myself. Instead, I switched my method, without changing my goal. I would apply to Princeton… I sought help from someone who actually knew me… he agreed to write me a recommendation letter.”
She goes on to explain her journey in meeting people who had climbed the road to success. “What I have learned is this: All of them had doubters. Some continue to have roaring, stadium sized collections of critics and naysayers who will shout I told you so at every little misstep or mistake. The noise does not go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them and to push onward with their goals.“
Thankfully, I have seen many newcomers fight back like Michelle Obama. They have owned their brilliance, laughed at the naysayers, done the work needed to establish themselves in successful businesses and careers. I have also seen many champions for newcomer talent and met those will step out of their comfort zone to stand up for equality, justice, freedom and equal opportunity.
I know that the journey is not easy but it is important for all of us to move from the feeling of failure… because that feeling happens long before the actual result of failure.
My message to each newcomer who is struggling with that feeling of ‘Am I good enough to make it?’ I want to encourage you to:
Above all, never feel like failure. Focus on your goals and turn ‘failure’ into success… that is how we WIN!
Thank you Michelle Obama for inspiring me to use my voice.