Failure: What I learned from NBC’s The Good Place

No Big Spoilers, I Promise.

Last week at my day job, while I was writing an email to my executive director, I ended the message with the line: “Let me know if this is the type of document you were hoping that I pull together. As always I am open to shifting, tweaking or starting from scratch.” And as I reread the email prior to sending, that line stopped me in my tracks.

The past me would have typed out that line, secretly dreading any type of constructive feedback that would come my way. Openly embracing the fact that I am a lady with high-achieving and people-pleasing tendencies, I began thinking back to my days as a student and in the early days of my professional career. I would be devastated if the work I produced didn’t measure up. When receiving feedback from classmates, colleagues, or supervisors I would smile and nod graciously, then beat myself up on my commute home, defensively making excuses for why everything I did was right. AND would go in circles trying to figure out why I wasn’t reaching the levels of success I was aiming for. In a nutshell, I didn’t know how to cope with failure. From the “big” failures of planning and hosting a poorly attended event (my first professional role had a big focus on event planning) to the little of feeling like I said or did the wrong thing in a meeting. I was terrified of failure.

So flash forward three years to the present day when I am writing this email. When I read the phrase “start from scratch” for some reason my mind immediately jumped to the hilariously charming NBC tv show The Good Place. Without giving away any big spoilers (I promise!!) — there are two characters in particular that came to mind, Janet and Derek, who are not humans and from time to time they are “rebooted” by another character hitting a “reboot” button. Here’s the thing: each time Janet and Derek are rebooted, they have to start from scratch. (Ahhhh see the connection now? This is how my brain works. Wild, I know).

Each time they are rebooted they become a better, more advanced version of themselves with increasingly more knowledge and power. Towards the end of the series Janet’s powers become more powerful than she could have ever imagined. And Derek? In true Derek fashion, he becomes an increasingly more advanced high-brow goofball that wears tuxedos and eats green olives out of martini glasses. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen the show – I highly recommend it.)

So, in this moment when I reread the email and I was stopped in my tracks, the whole paragraph and explanation above ran through my head. In reality only like 5 seconds passed before asking myself:

“What if each time we experience failure, it is like each time Janet or Derek is rebooted? Each failure allows us to reach a better, more advanced version of ourselves. And, if we remain open to failure, the scope of our own power and advancement becomes immeasurable?”

MIND BLOWN. NBC, you sly sly geniuses. My reflection continued: “Without failure, we cannot measure our resilience. Moreover, the measure of true failure does not need to be negative or shameful. It is not how big your failure is, it is how big your comeback is. How strongly and how committed you are to bouncing back. To trying again.”

So, what does this all mean for us in our day to day lives? Next time you feel like you have failed, keep this perspective shift in mind. — Whether it is missing the mark of a goal, feeling that you disappointed yourself or someone else, or maybe it was making a mistake in public, — you are simply hitting the “reboot” button, in an effort to reach a better, more advanced version of yourself. With each reboot, your potential grows immeasurably.

Xx Julia

One thought on “Failure: What I learned from NBC’s The Good Place

  1. I am reading (slowly) the book, Mindset, by Carol Dweck, right now. It’s all about fixed mindset vs. growth mindset, and the concept of failure plays a significant role in it. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. Your post reminded me of the book. I relate to the internal dialogue and experiences you have had around failure. I am trying (again, slowly) to work on my thoughts and feelings about it, too. I appreciate you writing about it because it makes me feel less alone about it. 🙂

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