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I wanted to tell you what I have learned about failure. My greatest life lessons have been through failure.

Each failure is painful.
Each failure brings some negative feelings. Let’s be honest, it sucks to fail.

I remember a failure that rattled me a few years back when I failed the Defense Exam at the Engineer Captains Career Course.

It is a stressful 5 hour exam in which you you read an order as is if you were in combat and you have to plan a defense with a certain amount of hours and a limited amount of resources. The exam includes doing a myriad of math calculations: man hours, blade team hours, obstacle emplacement, draw the graphics, write the Scheme of Engineer Operations.... (AHHH!!!) For those who haven’t experienced it, let’s just say it is daunting.

I completely and utterly bombed the exam and I knew it about 2.5 hours into it. The way the exam is structured, well, when you start to fail, it is like a cascading domino effect. Once I identified that I was on the path of failure, I knew it and I ran out of time to course correct it.

Never failing a military exam before I was mortified and ashamed. I doubted my abilities and felt like I wasn’t worth of the rank the army entrusted me with. We are always our own biggest critic and I don’t think I have ever been so hard on someone else as I was on myself at this moment in time.

I had one opportunity at a retest and failure meant being dropped from the course which ultimately meant career failure. After my self loathing was over I made a commitment.

I am going to dominate this retest and make myself a subject matter expert on this topic.

For the next few days I worked every practical exercise twice and spent countless hours going over the material. When I retook the exam I aced it. I became a subject matter expert on the topic because the of the failure.

I went on to graduate the course, and became an instructor at the Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course where oddly enough, I taught Engineer Defense and taught the very things I failed.

That experience humbled me and actually made me better as an instructor. It also gave me a point of reference and a story to tell the other student who failed to keep their chin up and that is is ok to fail provided you don’t make the exact same mistakes.

So, my advice: Don’t be paralyzed by the fear of failure. With every failure there is a lesson.

"In school we learn that mistakes are bad, and we are punished for making them. Yet, if you look at the way humans are designed to learn, we learn by making mistakes.

"We learn to walk by falling down. If we never fell down, we would never walk." -Robert Kiyosaki

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