Are You Willing to Accept Failure?

Red-Sea-Sinai-Elliott-GarberWhat have you failed at recently?

I hope you can answer that question with at least two or three good examples.

No? Nothing comes to mind?

Then you’re not trying hard enough.

It’s easy for people like me to hide away our failures. I can pick and choose what to write about, highlighting only the exciting experiences and financial freedom that I’ve enjoyed as a veterinarian. In this age of online personalities and digital branding, it’s tempting to present only the sanitized, hyper-charged images of our lives and careers.

But that’s not the truth for most of us. Not for me, at least. And these sterile, perpetually successful self-portrayals are not helpful for you.

You’re trying to figure out how to achieve a goal. It’s a dream you’ve been working on for years, doing your best to ignore the critics along the way. You want to do what when you grow up? Don’t you know how competitive that is? Do you want to live in poverty for the rest of your life?

So you need honest mentors. People who are willing to share their failures right alongside their successes.

I’ve had a few disappointments recently. Nothing huge, but I thought they would be worth being honest about.

I’ve been scheming for the last couple of months of how I might be able to participate in the upcoming AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference. I’m a total nerd in that I love this kind of leadership training and opportunities to network with colleagues.

I honestly thought my chances of getting an all-expenses paid trip to Chicago next month were pretty good.

But no, after trying about five different routes and applying for various scholarship programs that would have made it possible, I’ve come up against a wall.

We’re sorry to inform you that you have not been selected…

That kind of wall. Alas, my veterinary leadership skills will have to lie dormant for another year!

Ready for more?

I’ve failed in my writing goals. You’ve probably all seen that Author tab up on the top right menu of my website. Yes, it’s a slightly presumptuous title for someone with just one short story to his name.

But that short story was supposed to be a simple testing-of-the-waters, a prologue of sorts to an actual novel that would catapult me to instant success in the literary world. Right.

And I should be a lot closer to that goal than I am today. I committed a year ago to spend a dedicated hour every day writing this book. If I actually had the discipline to stick with it, I would easily be done with a first draft by now.

But where am I instead? I have a novel that is about a quarter of the way complete and a self-published short story that is selling about 20-30 copies every month. Not quite Herriot-Crichton-Clancy levels yet.

So I’ll keep plugging away. I love writing and I’m excited to share this story with the world.

Why then is it so hard for me to follow through and simply make it happen?

Nope, not a rhetorical question. I’ll tell you why it’s so hard. It’s hard because every worthwhile task is hard. It takes discipline to turn off the TV. I sometimes need a real kick in the butt in order to stop refreshing my Facebook feed. But that’s what it takes.

You want to be a marine mammal veterinarian? Or a virus-hunting veterinary sleuth? Awesome! Now what concrete steps are you taking to make that happen? Are you going to commit to studying diligently for hours every day for the next ten years of your life? Can you accept all the rejections for scholarships and training programs that will inevitably come your way?

I’ve applied for so many more of these opportunities over the years than I’ve ever been accepted for. Scholarships, fellowships, grants, externships, internships, and conferences. You name it, and I’ve been rejected from it.

But here’s the important thing to realize: it’s only because of all those hours I’ve invested in the rejections that occasionally a good news letter comes through too. And that’s what you have to hold out for. Persevere, my friends. It’s the only way.

Are you willing to fail?

How are you putting yourself out there, risking failure as you work towards your goals?

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33 Responses to “Are You Willing to Accept Failure?”

  1. Faye December 4, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    Thank you for this post, Dr. Garber. I’ll be submitting my vet school apps next year and am currently researching a slew of summer opportunities for 2014 and have often worried about rejection. I appreciate how honest and practical your posts are instead of anything I could ever find in a typical “Getting into Vet School” guide. Keep up the great posts 🙂

    • Elliott December 4, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

      Thanks for your encouraging words, Faye! I hope you can feel a renewed sense of inspiration to keep on with the tough work even in the face of potential rejections ahead. I hope something really cool comes together for next summer!

  2. Miguel Lajas December 4, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    Hi Dr.Garber,

    First of all I have to say I am following your blog for a couple of weeks now and I am very impressed. First of all I really like the way you talk about situations that many of us have lived/are living , and so it is very easy to relate to your posts. I started following you since I read your post about that internship at Krugger NP. It seemed so easy while I read it and I can even say I have felt really “empowered” by that post to keep pursuing my dream of being a wildlife Vet. You surely made another fan here! This post in particular is also very interesting since you could just “dress yourself as a very successful person, who had no problemas getting where you are atm” and yet you approach this issue as if you have just left vet school yesterday. Keep up the writting ! I am sure I am not the only one feeling empowered by you!

    • Elliott December 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

      Miguel, it’s great to have you following along! Comments like yours are what inspire me to keep working away at this blog, so thank you for taking the time to respond.

  3. Sophie December 4, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    Hey Elliott,
    I can definitely relate to what you are saying. Rejection is a hard thing to deal with… I received a lot of rejections starting with: your cv looks really nice, you seem to be an outgoing and motivated person, but you do not have enough experience…sorry…. How are we suppose to get the experience if no one will give us a chance to gain it? Even qualifications for voluntary work seems to be getting higher…. I’m still struggling, but somehow I keep on trying and keep on applying…even if they do ask for a minimum of 3 yrs exp. I dont have that, but maybe I will get lucky one day… !

    • Elliott December 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      Sophie, that’s a tough place to be and I know it’s one that many of us are familiar with. Persistence in continued applications is an important part of the equation, there’s no doubt about that. But it has to go hand-in-hand with ongoing efforts at improving your eligibility in every way possible. This may mean asking for honest assessments from those who are handing out the rejections. “What can I do to make myself a more appealing candidate in the future?” Most of us have gotten started gaining experience by volunteering long hours doing dirty work, whether that’s cleaning kennels and walking dogs or shoveling manure and holding horses. Is there a way that you can build up this experience by volunteering while you continue to earn an income in another way? Good luck!

  4. Paolo December 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Hi Elliott,

    I fully understand and share these feelings every day, and is something that we learn to face step by step.
    Indeed this should just reinforce our willingness to go ahead.
    There is a nice quote that says “fail often to succeed sooner” and this is what we should remind every time it happens! 😉

    • Elliott December 4, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

      I like that quotation, Paolo, thanks for sharing it! I’m doing my best to “fail often” here…

  5. Rhett December 4, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Excellent (as always) post!

  6. Lucy December 5, 2013 at 12:09 am #

    Thanks for your openness. I agree that life is made of lots of failure and trying to do things that don’t ‘succeed’. But your attitude to keep trying and not to let it stop you is the lesson I take from this. It will help me as I think about those things I face where I am afraid to fail.

    • Elliott December 5, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      We all have those potential failures looming on the horizon, and it’s often easier to turn right around in the other direction rather than risking that defeat. I hope you can hold on to this attitude!

  7. Eden December 5, 2013 at 4:05 am #

    Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
    – Samuel Beckett

    A quote I love to hate.

    • Elliott December 5, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      Haha, that’s a good way to put it. Fail better. I like that.

  8. Cerina Sickman December 5, 2013 at 5:55 am #

    Thanks so much for making this post! Your words made me feel less insecure about my recent failures. I’m at the point where I’m applying for colleges and scholarships and the results have been… less than desirable to say the least. But knowing that these failures are to be expected along the way I am even more determined to get into the college I want and I’ll keep applying for every scholarship I come across, even if my chances are slim. ^^ Becoming a veterinarian is the most important thing I want to do with my life.

    I’m really happy that you mentioned needing a good push every now and then to work on your goals because I keep having the same trouble. I’ll get distracted by books or deviantart or youtube when I should be filling out applications for colleges and scholarships instead. And I should probably be doing that right now to…
    Thanks for such an inspirational post! Goodluck! =)

    • Elliott December 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Cerina. I’m exactly the same way — the internet is my major downfall! I recently discovered a great app that has been helping me get some distraction-free writing time. It’s called Freedom and you can check it out here:

      I hope that all your efforts will pay off in a big way as you look ahead to this next step on the way to becoming a veterinarian.

  9. Price December 5, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    Dr. Garber,
    Thank you for this post! As a first year veterinary student, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with the amount of opportunities being offered to me and I feel like a bit of a failure every time something doesn’t pan out. I’ve been following your blog ever since I decided to start applying to the HPSP, and reading your posts has been reminding me that for everything that doesn’t happen at least a few things work!

    • Elliott December 5, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      I hope you can hold on to that truth even through the stresses and discouragements of vet school. Isn’t it cool that all those unique opportunities are out there, just waiting to be grasped?

  10. Joseph Cyrus December 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    So true. But sometimes when you get rejections after rejections in a row you begin to ask yourself why? Why bother? But eventually you pucker up and start all over again. Really enjoyed the last two paragraphs. I could so connect with it. Really made my day.

    • Elliott December 5, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

      Good to hear from you, Joseph. I’m so glad you were able to connect and resonate with this post.

  11. Daniel Beatty, DVM December 5, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    Secret to success is to have a definite purpose and the belief that you can attain your goal, then all the failures will just be learning experiences and stepping stones.

    In treating patients with hopeless cases, (I get these a lot with what I do – holistic medicine is many times the last ditch effort of people searching for any hope for their pet) I fail a lot but clients are still happy, because my expectations are for a miracle every time and the client is just looking for some comfort or some improvement. I am harder on myself than the clients.

    I do believe as you do if I am not failing I am not trying hard enough. I love what I do and the failures can hurt the heart but if brought into the right light they are my stepping stones and learning experiences.

    • Elliott December 5, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

      I like the way you summarized that — it’s really all about having “a definite purpose and the belief that you can attain your goal.” It’s only with that foundation that we can go out into the world in strength, ready to face the failures along the way.

  12. Marianela December 5, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Excellent post Elliot! I sure the rest of your followers also appreciate your honesty and words of encouragement. Despite your mentioned failures, your many accomplishments and the mere fact that you share them on this blog inspire myself and others to accomplish our goals and not settle for mediocrity in our profession.

    • Elliott January 31, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      Thank you for these kind words, Marianela!

  13. Eli December 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    This post rings so true because of the solid base of accomplishment it’s built on. I appreciate your honesty, Elliott, and insight. Truly inspiring… Let’s go fail!

    • Elliott January 31, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

      Eli, my friend! It’s not that I want to seek out any further failures, not at all. Rather, I think we can often do a better job of dealing with and responding to the failures when they inevitably come.

  14. Melodie December 10, 2013 at 4:20 am #

    Dr. Garber,

    By some lucky twist of internet fate, I have stumbled upon this wonderful website of yours. I am currently an undergraduate Animal Science major and an Army ROTC cadet. I am hoping to be and Army Vet for the same reason as you: financial freedom. Your articles have renewed my motivation and inspire me to go beyond the borders of my imagination in the veterinary field. Thank you so much for your posts. They have already provided such amazing guidance and insight for my future endeavors. I look forward to seeing more stories about your life as an Army Vet!

    Once again, keep up the inspiring work!

    • Elliott December 26, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

      Thank you for these kind words, Melodie! Best of luck as you continue along this path.

  15. Judy January 3, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    Thanks for this post! I just recently failed the dissection part for my anatomy final because I panicked. It really got to me, and I kind of wallowed around, but I have a retake at the end of January. During the short break I realigned myself with why I am in vet school and I think I’ve gotten over my pity party.

    I know this failure will make me a better vet in the future, because when there is a situation when everyone is panicking I will have learned to keep calm and do my best.

    Thanks again for sharing your own experiences with failure – it really does make it sting less.

    • Elliott January 31, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

      Thanks for sharing about your own experience, Judy! I’m so glad you were able to get back up on the horse and will be trying again. We’ve all been there.

  16. Megan January 22, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    Thank you for your post. Indeed so many of the points you have made are true in real life. Its refreshing to see someone speak candidly about their experience, good or not so good. I am curious though, from what I have encountered and heard, veterinary students carry an enormous educational debt that most likely follow them well into their old days. I have been accepted into several programs but have become very hesitant to pursue this career. AVMAs recent findings, NY times article on the financial state of veterinary students and many other examples are the reason for this hesitation. I have been warned by many vets to expect a very tough uphill ( financially and emotionally), should I go down this route and am having a tough time accepting it. What has your experience been like? are all the negatives out there about this profession true?

    • Elliott January 31, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

      Those are some weighty questions, Megan! And probably too much for a comment here. But overall, yes, I’m glad that I’ve gone into the profession and continue to be excited about all the incredible opportunities I have to look forward to over the years ahead.

      The financial realities do make it more difficult then it would be otherwise, but there are ways to address this if you’re willing to consider them. I went the military route, but you can also choose to participate in several other loan repayment programs that can make all the difference financially.

      If I were planning to be a small animal clinical vet, wasn’t naturally business or entrepreneurial-minded, and was facing over $200k of debt, I’m not sure I would say the same thing.

      So yes, there are some negatives to consider, but in my mind the benefits of joining this unique profession far outweigh them. Good luck with your decision!

  17. Sandra June 19, 2014 at 4:44 am #

    Great post! I agree that if you haven’t failed it means you are not trying hard enough and this hits very close to home for me. Four years ago when I started creating my master’s research project I was by myself in many senses with lots of great ideas and so excited to start but didn’t know exactly how to do it. Failure after failure trying to develop my project and with no support from my advisor I went deep into depression and it took me a long time to recover, but now, a couple of years later I have a thesis full of statements that are backed up by papers and thesis basically saying I was right on all my assumptions and I am more than ready to defend it in front of my jury. I have presented my project in some very important international conferences and just recently received the best compliments and questions about my work from some of the best and most respected researchers in my field and this is what makes it all worth it. Now I am so strong and ready to start new projects and still thinking about pursuing a PhD. I need to really decide if I wanna go through that again but I will give myself enough time to consider it. Now I look back on all those grants, internships and even advisors and teachers that rejected me and I can only thank them for forcing me to find other ways to succeed and making it so hard that I had to find ways to do it myself and realize what I am capable of. It’s all part of the experience but it is definitely worth it! Thanks for sharing I love your blog!

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