In this guest post, my incredibly bright peer tackles the inseparable part of everyone’s life and career — failure. Maria Temneanu is a final year PR student, passionate about marketing and horse riding. “Don’t get back on just for the sake of it,” says Maria.
By Maria Temneanu
There’s a well-trodden expression in this country that people use sometimes as an amulet against their own scepticism or anxiety.
It’s called “getting back on the horse” – and it’s the absolute pinnacle of all motivational rhetoric. People in our industry have regurgitated it more times than I could possibly count (and I have a background in Advanced Mathematics, after all). Juniors like me who’ve experienced difficulties with their work tend to be its primary victim.
So, what makes “getting back on the horse” so special as to be hysterically repeated almost everywhere I look for career advice?
I think it has a lot to do with the fact that persistence is more important than talent when it comes to succeeding. If you’re not good at something, you’re likely to experience failure. Getting past that threshold of pain and persisting in your work regardless of its initial outcome will make you a better practitioner than having some sort of ‘superhuman talent’.
Getting past that threshold of pain and persisting in your work regardless of its initial outcome will make you a better practitioner than having some sort of ‘superhuman talent’.
Take a closer look at 80% of the tips you get in marketing and public relations – “get up early”, “write something every day”, “go to a networking event at least once a month”. They’re all rooted in the concept of being persistent.
But does “getting back on the horse” actually work in real life? Does hearing it really make us pick up that pen, apply for that job, phone up that cranky journalist?
I’d always been inclined to say “Yes” – until I fell off a real horse and realised how severely wrong I was.
Captain the Great
A couple of months ago, I signed up for regular horse riding lessons at the equestrian club in North London. It was one of those things you promise yourself you’d start one day, but never actually get around to doing it. So, this time, I decided to put my foot down and my hands on the saddle.
It started off well. Having never fallen before, I felt confident enough to run around on my ponies like an absolute lunatic. Three weeks later, somebody assigned me to Captain – and everything changed.
On the 25th of October 2017, Captain the horse (a former employee of the British Police no less) decided to dash out of the training arena in full gallop, throwing me off his back in the process. Did I forget to mention he is 7 ft. tall?
Weirdly enough, I remember every little thought that crossed my mind as my legs were swirling in the air. Right before hitting the ground, I felt extremely relaxed and in control of the situation. I kept telling myself “Meh, it’s only a fall – it’ll probably hurt a little, but you’ll be fine”.
I wasn’t. Right after landing in a pile of mud with a sickening thud, a weird panic kicked in and kept me glued to the ground. The last thing I wanted to do was get up, get back on Captain and continue my practice. I was adamant in my refusal.
There was nothing wrong with me physically – didn’t break any legs, ribs or toes. The pain was bearable and it stopped bothering me after a couple of minutes. The problem was in my head – and it stayed there for a very long time.
I got back on the horse eventually – decided to follow the magic words. I didn’t quit, didn’t skip the following training sessions and followed my instructor’s words religiously. I genuinely thought it was going to make me better.
Guess what – it didn’t. I was a terrible horse-rider after my fall, despite doing all the right things.
The Captains of Marketing
A career misstep isn’t as violent as falling off a 7 ft. tall muscular beast, but it bears the same psychological repercussions – and saying “get back on it” doesn’t work in either of those situations.
The hard thing about falling off isn’t getting back on again, but resurrecting that mindless sense of self-confidence which dies out the second you hit the ground.
The truth is, you’re never going to be as confident as you were before experiencing failure. That lack of determination you get from losing control is likely to haunt you for years to come. It will most likely be the cause of your next mistakes, and the number of horses you climb back on in the process is redundant.
What’s the point in getting back on if you can’t do it without a compulsive quiver overcoming your entire body and frightening your horse?
But if you’re brave enough to get just a tiny fraction of that naive confidence back and then persist in your efforts … well, that’s when you become better. Training is futile if not employed with the right attitude.
Our industry needs to start accepting the fact that repeated failure will not cause a sudden boost in confidence. We need to stop obsessing over the short-termism of “getting back on” and prioritise other healthy long-term objectives, like “How can I be happy and comfortable again?” – because this is where success resides.
It’s more than paying attention to your own mental health. It’s about allowing yourself to be scared for a while, accepting your fears and then setting yourself free. I’ve learned early on in life that good results are situated at the boundary between anxiety and complete control.
So, my advice to you is: Don’t “get back on” just for the sake of it.
Do it because you want it and you’re ready.
Do it thinking you never fell off in the first place.
Otherwise, don’t do it at all.
If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at] gmail.com, tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!