The Art of Failing

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This past week, I was tested on many levels. Our Path21 office was moving across town (I was the “moving coordinator”), I had an important meeting with an out-of-town client (in the middle of the move), and I was waiting for my ARE Schematic Design test result, while preparing to take Site Planning on Saturday. It was one of those times where everything was moving at 100 mph and I had to keep up.

The great news is that I passed the first exam, which makes that three for three. The bad news is I did not pass Site Planning. It was my first fail when it comes to the ARE’s. This isn’t unheard of. In fact, a lot of people fail. My first instinct was to be very upset with myself. I ran through all of the typical thoughts. “I didn’t give myself enough time to study.” “If I can’t pass this one, how will I pass the last three?” “I just can’t fathom studying for this thing again!” I know this negative conversation I was having with myself would lead me nowhere and it was only one exam. My homemade Keurig coffee wasn’t going to cut it today so I decided to get a “fancy” latte and head into work early.         Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 6.10.13 AM

As I was driving, I honestly couldn’t help but to let my mind drift to this exam and the situation surrounding it. I had moved through the stages of failed ARE grief and started to remember a particular scenario when I arrived at Prometric on Saturday morning. The Prometric Testing Center is housed in an office tower and is typically very quiet on a Saturday. As usual, I felt my nerves were so loud that they could be heard. That might be why the other woman in the elevator asked me if I was going to take a test. We started chatting and continued to do so while we waited in line to check in. We discussed which tests we were each taking and how this was my fourth time at this testing center. Typical to how many people react when I tell them I have to take not one but seven exams, she reacted in awe and with a little bit sympathy. Just as soon as she had let this sympathy linger between us, she retracted it and said, “Well I suppose if you are going to be designing the buildings we are all in, I would want you to have gone through a rigorous process.” This statement is why we take the ARE’s. This statement is also the reason that I was finally able to cope with this fail. Failing one of these doesn’t mean that I am inadequate in any way. It doesn’t mean that my degrees have failed me or that I am going to have to go back to school AGAIN because I can’t cut it in architecture. The ARE is a measure of our ability and knowledge to be responsible for the health, safety and welfare of our fellow citizens, friends and family when designing the built environment. And that is an immense responsibility.

As much as passing or succeeding is a great feeling, failing teaches us just as much, if not more. We work within a profession where failure is common. We may fail to get short-listed, fail to get selected for that career-altering project, or fail to get the perfect job with the perfect firm. Herein lies the art of failing. When this occurs, the only way to move forward is to learn from these failures and adjust our portfolios, resumes or study habits for the next time.

Among other things, Malcom Gladwell has written about failure. He asks, “What do the forms in which we fail say about who we are and how we think? We live in an age obsessed with success, with documenting the myriad ways by which talented people overcome challenges and obstacles. There is as much to be learned, though, from documenting the myriad ways in which talented people sometimes fail.”




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