Attention Class of 2017: Go Forth and Screw Up!

Did everyone suddenly turn, um, perfect? In this era of social-media awesomeness, where every screen we glance at shows us everyone’s perfectly Instagrammed picture and amazing career accolades and all the rest, it’s easy to imagine that life for those around us has turned, well, failure-free.

Or at least, that’s how it’s presented.

I know that several years ago, when I started giving speeches at business events and it became someone’s responsibility to read out my bio as part of my introduction, just hearing myself described in that way made me squirm in my chair.

My bio proudly stated my big accomplishments like “being one of Forbes most powerful women in sports” and “being named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business”, yet it totally neglected to mention that for much of my life the results I had delivered had been, at best, average, and more often than not, an epic fail.

I never made the A team in sports.

I never got the lead in the school play.

I never got better than B grades in college.

And then, I made it to the work world. That was when I had some of my greatest embarrassing screwups. Yep, I’m that person who got fired not just once, but twice in my twenties. The first time, I was singled out as a rabble-rouser and nearly deported from the United States back to my home country of New Zealand because I didn’t have an employer and a work visa to keep me here. Then my second job ended when I was laid off as part of a larger restructuring. All together, that was three years of what I fondly refer to as my “canyon of career despair” — hardly a picture-perfect career journey.

Yet despite ALL of that, I made it to president of the $5 billion global sports brand, Gatorade, before I’d turned 40. And now as I look back, I realize that it’s exactly because of the many embarrassing fails in my career that I was able to springboard forward. It’s because I am sooooo far from perfect, but I am no longer scared of my imperfections, contradictions, and attitude that I have been able to assume the most challenging leadership roles with the courage of my convictions. And trust me — when you get further up in your career, you’re going to need that rock solid foundation when the going gets tough.

The truth is that if you haven’t epically failed, you can’t awesomely succeed.

The truth is that if you haven’t epically failed, you can’t awesomely succeed. Why? Because it’s the mix of failures and successes that helps you understand where you’re truly awesome and where you’re going to need some serious support from others. It’s the failures that teach you humility, resilience, and self awareness and the successes that feel so fulfilling as the great reward for having gotten back up again. In the end, you must understand, deep in your bones, that NOT everyone is a winner, so you need to get out there and give your all if you want to achieve real greatness.

So fellow aspiring Extremers, the class of 2017 — my biggest advice to you is instead of only focusing on crafting the perfect resume / Facebook page / LinkedIn / Instagram / whatever’s next, you need to get to work on your ANTI-resume. Your list of your biggest failures — the things that developed you in some of your most interesting ways. Over the last couple of years as I researched my book EXTREME YOU: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat, I interviewed some of most accomplished people on planet, and I heard some of the most glorious anti-resumes you can imagine — from Sam Kass, the failed baseball player who went on to become White House chef to Janet Shamlian, the stay-at-home mom who never really fit in and instead became a national correspondent for the TODAY show.

How to create and review your ANTI-resume:

  1. Take a break from creating the illusion of perfection and instead consider your career in chronological order. Go way back and list all the fuckups, mismatches, bad decisions, and disasters.
  2. If you can’t fill a page with fails, you need to ask yourself: have you been pushing the boundaries enough? Have you really been taking risks? Do you have the epic fails to prove it?
  3. If not, man up, go take some risks, and build your anti resume. Because your anti-resume is probably a better predictor of your future success than any artificial portrait of achievement and perfection.
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