Board Meeting photo from ShutterstockNow that we have stuffed ourselves at Thanksgiving feasts with family and friends, I would like to share a story about growing up as one of the youngest members of my extended family. When I was a little kid, dinners at extended family gatherings were always broken into two groups, the adult and kid table. It was a huge honor when one was given permission to leave the kid table and sit with the adults. In addition to real silverware and glasses, there was a feeling that you had graduated onto bigger and better things (and conversations). And how my older siblings enjoyed looking down (literally) at the kiddie table – usually a card table with folding chairs and an assortment of Dixie plates and flat ware.

There is a phrase about having “A seat at the table” that indicates you have reached your goal and you now have some input or influence in a certain arena. Do you aspire to be a C-Suite executive? Having a seat at the table would mean you secure a CEO/CFO/COO/etc. position. Is your goal to be on the planning team for your office’s reorganization? Having a seat at that table may literally mean you are sitting around the decision-making table at a planning team meeting.

Many of us have a “table” at which we would like to sit and we work toward that goal. Still, even with planning and our best efforts, setbacks occur. This should not dissuade you for striving toward your goal as rejection and failure are a part of life. If you have never experienced rejection it means that you have not pushed yourself outside your circle of comfort; you have played it safe. If you never failed at anything, you have not tried something new or else you waited for others to blaze the path for you. Edison ‘failed’ thousands of times in creating the light bulb – he preferred to look at it as knowing thousands of ways not to make a light bulb. Reggie Jackson is one of the greatest home run hitters of all-time, but he also struck out over 2500 times. Reaching your goal will most likely be met with a fair amount of failures.

When you do not push yourself outside your sphere of known entities, you unintentionally stunt your growth – this is true in any aspect of your life be it personal or professional. It is good to try new projects in the spirit of learning and stretching yourself.

Consider some stories of rejection or failure:

  • Michael Jordan was not selected for his high school varsity basketball team during his sophomore year (another sophomore, Leroy Smith, was selected to be on the varsity squad) . The coach can give every reason in the book as to why he selected the other player, but to think Michael Jordan got left off his varsity high school team any year is amazing. Did he give up the game? No. Not only did Jordan go on to have a solid high school and collegiate career – I heard he may have played in the NBA for a bit as well. Although he failed at his goal when he was 15 years old, the failure did not stop him from pursuing his goal.
  • Fr. Edward ‘Monk’ Malloy C.S.C. served as president of the University of Notre Dame for 18 years. This is the same person who shared with students that he almost flunked out of ND during his first semester. He experienced failure and did not give up. Monk continued at the university and learned how to excel in the classroom and in the administrative ranks.
  • Fred Astaire is well-known for his top hat and tails, but did you know that an MGM talent director evaluated Astaire in 1933 and wrote “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little”. Legend has it that Astaire kept the memo in his home. This less than glowing recommendation did not cause him to give up on his dream.
  • Harrison Ford is one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors of all-time. One of his first big breaks came when he played the role of Han Solo in the Star Wars trilogy. However, he was not the first choice – Al Pacino turned down the role that eventually went to Ford. While being the second choice may not be ideal for your ego, remember that it is an opportunity for you to make the most from (and Ford did).
  • General Douglas MacArthur applied for admission to West Point and was turned down twice. He tried a third time, was accepted and the rest of the story can be found in history books.

Who cares how you get to the table, the important part is you get there. Don’t give up on a dream and when obstacles come up, choose to scale or break through them instead of turning back.