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Each year potential FDIC instructors eagerly await the golden ticket to teach at the world’s largest educational conference for firefighters. Those that receive confirmation their proposals were accepted often take to social media to share their excitement. This excitement is sometimes followed by comments of disappointment and frustration from those not selected. Those responding in a negative way are missing an opportunity to fail gracefully. Failing gracefully is not about giving up, it is about coming back stronger with a plan to succeed.

It wasn’t long ago I had my own experience with failing gracefully. I was to be the first female firefighter sworn to duty in the town. The interview was a breeze, but I went into the agility test with uncertainty. Just over a year prior to testing I was involved in a car accident. The injuries sustained benched my fire service career and left me using a walker following surgery. The agility test was just two months after the doctor lifted my ten pound lifting restriction. I passed all but one section of the agility test, but what I will never forget is during my lowest and most embarrassing moment of failure, the men of the Sebring Fire Department rallied behind me and cheered words of encouragement the entire time I was trying. After the agility test, I wrote the chief and thanked him for the opportunity to test and time spent for the interview.

Failing gracefully starts with thanking those who provided you the opportunity to try in the first place. Your attitude and how you respond to defeat says a lot about your character. Often times in the workplace and in life things don’t always go as planned, but how you react can be planned. Regardless if it is the FDIC selection committee, a panel of job interviewers, or the one administering the promotional test, show those decision makers you have the ability to handle difficult news professionally. Chances are, those individuals will remember your positive behavior when the next opportunity arises.

After failing the agility test I started to move into the next phase of failing gracefully, the self-improvement process. I connected with FDIC Instructor Dan Kerrigan of Firefighter Functional Fitness (who did get the golden ticket for 2017, so don’t miss his class!). Dan offered techniques on how to strengthen my recovering injury and how to compensate for my new weaknesses. After applying the strategies he offered, it wasn’t long before I felt confident to try again. I set up the same part of the agility test I failed and had my aunt record me successfully completing the challenge. I sent the video to the chief in hope he would offer the opportunity for a retest. I just finished my year probationary period as the first female sworn into the Sebring Fire Department. I am grateful for the opportunities FDIC has provided to connect with people like Dan and other instructors that are willing to guide struggling firefighters with self-improvement. FDIC IS the place to make life-changing connections if you decide to seek the opportunities.

Failing gracefully means investing in a plan and asking for constructive criticism on how you can improve. One must be sure to listen and not become defensive when feedback for improvement is offered. It is important to find ways to improve yourself and the assets you have to offer a selection committee. Actively seek opportunities to gain additional certifications and skillsets. If you are not willing to invest in yourself, why would anyone else?

Who is there when you fail? Failing gracefully is easier with support. During grad school we were challenged to think about who we let on “our bus,” or inner circle. It is important to surround yourself with quality people if you want to be a quality person. A plant cannot blossom to its full potential without the right environment. You need to carefully create your own environment. Look to fill your bus with people who are positive, people going in the direction you strive to travel, and people who will be there to guide you when you fail. FDIC is the perfect place to add quality to your inner circle. After being rejected to teach at FDIC, I sought advice from the passengers on my bus. Now it is my turn to pass what I was told on. Start with gaining experience as an instructor by speaking at smaller conferences. This will give you the opportunity to refine your presentation. Write and submit articles to Fire Engineering and Fire Rescue, show the decision makers you are knowledgeable about what you want to teach. Gain additional credentials to show your expertise and refine your proposal to ensure it is quality. Most important, never give up. FDIC received over 900 proposals and only 300 were selected, next year may be your year!

Failing at anything in life should not be a discouragement to achieving goals. Use each failure as fuel to motivate self-improvement and success. Show up and leave every opportunity, regardless of the outcome with the right attitude. Surround yourself with people who empower you, not discourage you. At the end of the day, how you react to failure is your decision, but how others view your reaction is theirs.

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