Here’s How Failing (often!) Helped Me Succeed

Jo Boon opens up about the repeated rejections that can lead to small successes. Life is seldom picture perfect and the more we hide our struggles from one another, the more we contribute to a false sense of reality about how success is really achieved. So, how do people really make it to the top and what does it take to get there?


There is a strange but powerful myth spread from childhood, that the rise to the top comes naturally to some and is an impossible struggle for others. This is nonsense. I don’t for a second deny that my totally unearned class privilege, private education and endlessly supportive family have put me in the best possible position to succeed. But it has also taken over two decades to acknowledge that actually, I have worked damned hard to get where I am, and it certainly hasn’t come easily.

I have worked multiple jobs, insanely long hours and pushed myself to extremes to prove that you can earn your privilege. Ultimately, you can’t. You can’t justify what you’re born with, but you can absolutely make the most of it. I hope, however, that this piece is not just for those born with a silver spoon in their mouths because sooner or later we all have to face the realities of rejection and failure. That may sound brutal but it’s the simple truth and something we shouldn’t hide away from.

The problem, I think, is that once people succeed, they seem to want to hide how they got there and make that rise to the top seem effortless. On some level, people know that this must be nonsense but in the absence of understanding their failures and disappointments, the journey can still seem smoother than it really was.

Well, I have certainly not made it to the top, but today is my first day at the BBC and that is a huge milestone for me. For context: I got rejected from the BBC Journalist Training Scheme not once, but twice, and never even heard back from another BBC job I applied for. I have been rejected from jobs for being over qualified (turns out many employers don’t like young women who start companies) and for not having experience in that field yet… go figure.

I am often congratulated for my achievements as if they just fell from the sky and are a token of remarkable good luck. I have been lucky, undoubtedly. I also work pretty much constantly, make the most of every opportunity, and put myself in the way of rejection. I’d say that for every journalist project I get to take on, I’m rejected (or don’t even hear back from) around twenty others.

Journalism is a brutal industry, saturated with talent and diluted of quality by click bait content that can be quickly mass produced. The bottom line is: there is no money. We don’t choose to invest in journalism because it isn’t currently valued. I am a naïve optimist and choose to believe that this will swing back the other way. The closer we push democracy to the edge of the cliff; the more extreme measures will have to be taken to bring it back to safety.

That’s all very grand, I know, but in the mean time we have a poorly funded industry that I am either very foolish or very brave for wishing to enter. I am proud of all my successes, but they have come off the back of repeated rejections. I have no wish to hide this any more because I would rather work hard and be rewarded than have everything fall into my lap.

Along with many of my peers, I was hit hardest by this after university. I did not initially get the job(s) I wanted and really struggled with a feeling of inadequacy. I saw others embark on high flying careers and felt like a failure. My grades and certificates and successes suddenly felt redundant; what I had to offer wasn’t wanted.

This was, of course, absolute nonsense. My first job was as a manager at an education company and it was definitely not the first job I was expecting. It felt like a bizarre sideways step, but it turned out to be an incredible experience and one I gained much from. Was it always plain sailing? Absolutely not. Have I loved every second? Does anyone, ever? Would I have got my current job without it? Not in a million years!

Remarkably, even things that feel like failures can turn into your greatest successes if you grit your teeth and crack on with the reality you have, rather than the dream you may wish for. It’s so easy to pretend that this was all part of some master plan, now that the ‘plan’ has come together so neatly; but it wasn’t. Ultimately, if you want to succeed then you have to be prepared to fail. Repeatedly.

This has been one of the main lessons I’ve learnt in my 23 years, and anyone who tells you differently is lying. Label itself was founded off the back of many half-completed projects, rejections and ideas that never quite launched. You can’t give up through all of that. You learn from every failing and use it as part of your arsenal in the future. Ignore the picture- perfect reality that we live in and take encouragement from other people’s failures. Not in a vindictive way, we should all be lifting one another up, but because when you see others fail and then succeed it gives you confidence that you can too.

This isn’t just true in your working life, but in your social and love life too. There are too many clichés to be listed on this subject: ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ or ‘don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.’ These sayings are popular because they have the ring of truth; we just tend to hear them and not apply them to our life.

So, look foolish. Be ridiculous. Get rejected. What have you been holding back from recently? Apply for the new job. Tell the person you like that you like them. Wear the outfit no one says you look good in. You’ll probably fail first time and it will probably feel shit… but maybe the second or the third or the tenth time, you won’t fail. You’ll succeed. And then, it will all have been worth it.