Dealing with Disappointment and Learning from Failures

I have written posts in the past about how to deal with technical failures as a speaker: Be prepared. Have backups of your files. Take screenshots or videos of your demos. Rehearse presenting your session with and without your slide deck. I have made plenty of I-wasn’t-prepared-for-that mistakes in the past, and I learned from them.

Last weekend was different. I was supposed to do a precon and a session at SQLSaturday Nashville. I didn’t experience any technical failures. I experienced what felt very much like personal failures.

On Friday, our precon got canceled due to weather.

On Saturday, no one showed up to my session.

I had not prepared for either of those things to happen, and I definitely had not prepared for both of those things to happen on the same weekend. I went through a whole range of emotions in a short amount of time, from embarrassment to disappointment to amusement.

Since then, I have debated with myself about whether or not to write this blog post. I have written and re-written it several times. I did not want to write a blog post full of whining and complaining, but I did want to share my experience as a reminder to both myself and others that:

  • These things happen. It’s ok to feel disappointed, but don’t let it stop you from trying again.
  • There is always something positive to take away from a negative experience.
  • Life is full of ups and downs. Social media (especially my own) often focus on the ups, but life is not amazing all the time.

If you only needed a few reminders, feel free to stop reading here :) The rest of the post is quite long and a little more like a journal entry, really.

Dealing with Disappointment and All The Feels

I know cancellations and empty rooms happen. I knew they would happen to me at some point. I never expect to fill a room when I’m scheduled to speak, and I’m always grateful for every single person who shows up in hopes of learning something from me. I like to say that if just one person learns something useful, it’s worth all the time and effort I’ve put into it.

But what if not even a single person learns anything? The whole reason I speak is to help others. It was difficult feeling like the entire trip was a complete waste of time and money since I wasn’t able to help anyone. I was simply not prepared for how I would react to both of these things happening for the first time on the same weekend.

I went through a whole range of feelings in a couple of days. Most of these can be put in the “whining and complaining” category, and I know that I certainly did not handle everything as well as I wish I would have. I tend to react very emotionally at first before my logical side kicks in. Sometimes it happens simultaneously, other times it takes a few days.

Disbelief
Emotions: “Really? Really? The whole venue is closed? The whole day? There’s not even any freezing rain or snow yet!”

Logic: “Cathrine, take your Norwegian glasses off. This is Tennessee. Icy roads here are way different than snowy roads back home. Better safe than sorry! We don’t want anyone to get hurt trying to drive on deceptive roads.”

Confusion
Emotions: “Wait, am I in the right room? Is this the right time? I better double-check the schedule. Am I sure? But the room is empty? No one has even opened the door. I must have messed up. But the room monitor was just here. What…?”

Logic: “Cathrine, I’ve triple checked. It’s the right room and the right time. No one is here because there are so many other great sessions going on right now. Hey, maybe you should go catch the rest of one of them instead?”

Anger
Emotions: “I spent all this time and money traveling… for nothing? I prioritized working on slides and demos instead of spending time with my family… for nothing? I took time off work… for nothing? We sat inside the hotel for two days, skipping sightseeing and workouts and sleep to prepare and rehearse… for nothing?”

Logic: “Cathrine, it was not for nothing. What would you have said if you didn’t do all of those things and you delivered a poor precon? You’d be angry at yourself for not prioritizing the precon! You’ll deliver it at some point. Chill.”

Embarrassment
Emotions: “Oh no. Oh no no no. This is awkward. So many failures. Here I am, all ready to go, with all this Norwegian chocolate that no one is going to eat… Oh no. I hope no one walks in now. I’ll just pack up and leave.”

Logic: “Cathrine… Shit happens. You shouldn’t be embarrassed for being prepared and ready to go and no one showing up. You should be embarrassed if you didn’t prepare and a room full of people showed up and you delivered your worst session ever. Get over it.”

Guilt
Emotions: “The organizers should never have picked me. I’ve failed them. What if they picked me over someone else? What if I took away someone else’s chance to speak for the first time! I shouldn’t have come. I should have let someone else get the chance instead.”

Logic: “Cathrine, stop taking responsibility for something you didn’t do. The organizers chose the sessions they thought would create a good and balanced schedule for their attendees. If no one showed up to your session, it only meant the organizers selected a bunch of other great sessions! It doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t have been picked in the first place.”

Disappointment
Emotions: “I was so ready to do this. I’ve been nervous and excited for days. I was so ready to get up there, present, answer questions, help others improve their work day… And now? Nothing. All those nerves… and they all just faded out into nothing. This is not what I expected. This sucks.”

Logic: “It sucks. You’re allowed to feel disappointed. It’s ok. Just don’t let it overwhelm you. Don’t let it stop you. Take a moment to feel disappointed, and then get back up. Keep going. This is not the end of the world.”

Amusement
Emotions: “HAHAHA! Can you believe it? Precon canceled and now no one shows up to my session! HAHAHA! This is the worst and funniest weekend ever. I wish we had snow days back home, that would be something! Man, at some point I’m going to look back at this weekend and laugh!”

Logic: “…yeah, what emotions said. All you can do right now is to laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Things happen. So laugh! :)”

Learning from Failures

After going through that whole emotional roller coaster, I decided to take a step back. What could I learn from this? What could I share with others to help them? Maybe not much. This is quite different from mistakes like forgetting to keep a backup of your slide deck. You can’t really make a checklist of things to remember if your precon gets canceled due to weather. You can’t really provide tips on how to prepare for no one showing up to your session. You just have to deal with it and move on.

To deal with my disappointment and stop feeling like the trip was a waste of time and money, I decided to focus on the other things I found valuable that weekend: I got to attend some great sessions and learn from others. I was able to provide a little bit of support for a friend who spoke for the first time and felt a tremendous amount of happiness for her. I got to catch up with friends and give them big hugs. Heck, my friends gave me big hugs to comfort me when I told them about what had happened. I got to see Nashville, for crying out loud! I’m one of the luckiest people in the world who get to do these things while surrounded by wonderful people :)

To sum it all up:

These things happen. It’s ok to feel disappointed and to feel all the other feels. Take a moment to reflect on it, but don’t let it stop you from trying again.

There is always something positive to take away from a negative experience. Find the positive. Focus on that. Ask a friend for a hug. Actually, give a friend a hug. It will make you feel good as well.

And finally, life is full of ups and downs. I choose to mainly focus on the good things in life when blogging and posting on social media because focusing on the good helps me deal with all the bad days. But I also know that it can cause a skewed perspective of me. When I think of the people I look up to and respect, I see all their achievements, but not the countless hours of hard work underneath. It can contribute to impostor syndrome, a feeling of everyone else knowing more and doing better than you. I hope that by sharing this, I can show people that it’s not all happy fun awesome fantastic days. Some days really do suck.

You just have to deal with the disappointment, learn from failures, work hard and keep going :)

Who is Cathrine Wilhelmsen?

Cathrine is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP, BimlHero, Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert, author, speaker, blogger and chronic volunteer who loves teaching and sharing knowledge. She works as a consultant, architect and developer, focusing on Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence projects. She loves sci-fi, chocolate, coffee, craft beers, ciders, cat gifs and smilies :)

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Hi! This is Cathrine. Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I'd love to hear your thoughts, but please keep in mind that I'm not technical support for any products mentioned in this post :) Off-topic questions, comments and discussions may be moderated. Thanks!

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