Amy Rees Anderson

Fail Upwards Baby!

(Guest post from Dalton Anderson)  If I were to write a book on my life, the title will definitely be “Failing Upwards”. I define failing upwards as using the lessons life teaches you to improve your situation. For me, that’s been a whole lot of failures that have taught me and prepared me for the next step or phase of my life. My life story isn’t long yet, but I want to share the few “failures” I’ve experienced thus far.

During my sophomore year of college, I started working for the charity my parents founded. It was awesome to work with them and push the mission of the charity, but it was apparent at least to me that I lacked any skills to add real value. I mean I hadn’t even declared my major yet, and was cruising through all my general courses. I brought some mad custodial skills and a smile that said “I’m a winner,” and that was the extent of my resume. It’s a good thing my parents love me I guess, and that they were patient as I learned. I worked hard in school and tried to finish as fast as possible believing that my degree would magically bestow me with skills and qualify me for a great paying career. Sad to say that’s genuinely what I believed—live and learn right?

After college I discovered that a wizard does not hand you a degree and grant you a powerful resume full of sought-after skills (which was a real bummer because how cool would that be?!), and so I got an internship working for an awesome PR company. When I started, I knew next to zilch about PR, but I was hungry to gain some knowledge and learned as much as I could. I was blessed with some great mentors and had a lot of opportunities to discover where I had some natural abilities. I also found some areas where I’m not as skilled or gifted.

I loved my internship and the skills I gained through that experience, but there were many-a-day that I felt pretty inadequate and like I was a massive failure. Agencies are nonstop, and the news waits for no one. I loved the fast pace and that every day brought on something new, but as a writer it required quick turnaround and being able to come up with a masterpiece on the fly. It’s not a job where you can hit the pause button and ask everyone to hold on while you catch up. It was a mixture of learning on the fly, keeping organized, and pretending to not be drowning on a daily basis. I really did have a great time and loved my experience, but when the internship was over I came away recognizing that my skills were not to the level required to excel in an agency environment. I felt like a failure, and questioned if I had any skills that qualified me for a job.

I sent my resume everywhere. Well that’s a big exaggeration—I sent it to a lot of places though. As the process goes, I didn’t receive any calls the first few weeks. I started reaching out to people I know as well as my mom’s network and that led to a couple of interviews, but nothing was landing. I became discouraged and thought maybe writing and storytelling weren’t my strengths at all. Perhaps it would be better if I tried a different industry. I figured I would keep trying a little longer, and then start casting the resume out like Steph Curry in a 3 point contest (congrats to Joe Harris for winning this year’s contest, I just figured the analogy would resonate better if I used Steph. No offense Joe).

I followed my mom’s blog advice and applied to every position that I was remotely interested in. It didn’t matter if I was qualified or not, if I thought I could be good at it, I was applying. It led to some hilarious applications, and I even applied for an executive position at a well-known publishing company, and my cover letter explained that while I was grossly under-qualified, I’d be a risk they wouldn’t regret. I then went on to explain how a focus on penguins could increase revenue and build brand awareness. You’ll be surprised to hear I never heard back on that one. One application required me to write a short story on whatever I wanted, and I guess I had just listened to BBC radio because I was thinking about the Queen of England and her fleet of Corgis. I ended up writing a story about a royal pooch named Pongo, and I’m convinced it will be a best-selling children’s book one day.

None of those applications really went anywhere, but I discovered that I’m passionate about writing when I’m allowed to be creative and try new things. As fate would have it, I ended up applying at an amazing university that has a strong culture for doing things out of the box, and was lucky enough to get hired.

What I’ve learned thus far, and will continue learning is that there are certain skills, areas, and conditions that I’m very weak in, and there are others that I’m pretty strong in. That’s the human experience, and we’re all on this crazy train. That’s the obvious bit. But the reminder I want to leave for myself and anyone who needs it is that when you find an area that you’re weak in, don’t assume the weakness is generalized. It could be that by changing the conditions, you’ll actually excel. And sometimes it’s just a matter of continual practice and training before you change weaknesses into strengths. Either way, keep moving forward, and keep failing upwards!

~Dalton Anderson (son of Amy Rees Anderson – purchase a copy of mom’s new book here: “What AWESOME Looks Like: How To Excel In Business & Life“)

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