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The Surprising Way I Taught My Daughter About Success

After years of summer drama camps, acting workshops, and children's theater performances, you finally faced your first major audition yesterday. You were going for the role of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, and you arrived at the audition to find that 25 other girls all wanted the part as much as you did.
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Mother and daughter having a serious talk
Mother and daughter having a serious talk

Dear Daughter,

After years of summer drama camps, acting workshops, and children's theater performances, you finally faced your first major audition yesterday. You were going for the role of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, and you arrived at the audition to find that 25 other girls all wanted the part as much as you did.

Once I got a good look at the competition, I was far more nervous than you. These girls meant business -- they came wearing makeup and costumes and clutching 8x10 head shots and professional resumes. I smiled tentatively at the other moms around us as we sat waiting for your turn. They grimly looked me up and down and didn't smile back. I wondered then whether allowing you to audition for this play was really a good idea. You're just a kid who likes to do theater once or twice a year -- how could you compete against a group of wannabe Disney stars? What what it do to your self-esteem if you couldn't match up?

Sometimes, I worry too much.

You went out on stage when it was your turn and poured your heart into each scene you performed. You'd spent the last couple of weeks reading To Kill a Mockingbird and your understanding of Scout and her motivations was obvious. After the first round of cuts, more than half the girls were sent home. You stayed. By the end, only five girls were asked to come to callbacks last night. Yours was one of the names called.

We left the theater for a dinner break and you were exultant. "I don't even care if I make it," you bubbled once we'd gotten in the car. "I'm just excited to have made it to the final five." I felt the same way. Still, we couldn't help but feel hopeful last night as you read alongside the adults who were auditioning. Maybe you would get the part, after all. Maybe all your hard work and preparation would pay off. Maybe you'd get to experience that indescribably wonderful feeling of taking a bow at the end of an adult production in which you'd played a pivotal role.

And then this morning, I got the email: You didn't get the part.

You took the news with grace. "Oh well," you said. "At least I made people laugh when they were supposed to. I liked the way that felt." Later on in the day, though, you brought me the script. "This is for you," you said, wearing a brave smile on your face. "I won't be needing it anymore." A few minutes later, I heard the sounds of Sia's "Titanium" coming from your room and my heart sank.

No one told me when I had kids that one of the hardest parts of being a mom would be watching my children suffer -- and knowing that at times that pain would be necessary. A big part of me wanted to march into your room, turn down the music and offer to take you out for an ice cream or a new book. Surely, I could make this all better! But I knew that this could be a crossroads moment for you -- I knew that your response to your failures will play a huge role in determining your success in life. And the earlier you can learn this lesson, the better off you'll be. Now wasn't the time for ice cream -- It was time to find the file.

I started the file many years ago, and saved it specifically for a moment like this one. I've kept it hidden away because if I'm honest, it stings to look at it, even now.

The file is filled with rejection letters.

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The letters span my entire career, although the bulk of them come from my first few years as a television reporter. The story most people know is that I graduated from college and landed a job as a reporter and morning anchor in Columbia, South Carolina. The real story is far less glamorous. I moved back home after graduation and spent the next three months sending out dozens and dozens and dozens of resume tapes to television stations across the country. I got a flood of rejection letters in response -- along with one lackluster phone call from a news director in Columbia, South Carolina. Eagerly, I drove to the news station for an interview, where he made some vague statements about a job opening at some point for which I might be a fit. Upon my return home, I e-mailed and called him every week after that for three months until he finally hired me -- In retrospect, I'm pretty sure I was hired because it was the only way he could guarantee I'd stop bothering him.

To all my friends and former classmates, my first job was a big success -- I was working as an anchor in a top 100 market, right out of college! But the reality was that my one success came only after many, many, many rejections. And this is the way my life has played out ever since.

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Success, I learned at an early age, comes only to those who are willing to fail over and over and over again. And the truth is, a surprising number of people aren't willing to make that sacrifice. Failure, after all, is a tremendous blow to the ego. Failure hurts. It creates doubt and uncertainty and can result in a lack of confidence that's hard to shake.

But failure can also make you tough. It can force you to get better, to work harder, to hone your skills and zero in on your strengths and weaknesses. Behind nearly every success story you see is a long string of failures. Successful people don't generally like to admit it, but the truth is that most of them only got to where they were after being told 'no' over and over and over again.

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Surprisingly, failure can often even lead to even greater success than you had previously hoped for. When I became a mom and decided to pursue my secret passion to become a writer, I first began sending out essays to magazines. I worked for weeks on these essays- Every single one of them was turned down.

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Ouch.

My ego was bruised, but if I'd learned anything from being a TV reporter, it was to never give up. I decided to start a blog and publish my writing myself- and the blog ended up becoming the greatest success of my career. Because of it, I've had more dreams come true than I ever thought possible.

But guess what? I still deal with failure on a regular basis. Ad campaigns and TV appearances fall through. Blog posts miss the mark or don't get read. Ideas fall flat. I still doubt myself and question my direction on a regular basis. I still feel the sting of rejection more often than I'd like.

But I know now that that sting helps spur me onward.

I gave you the file a little while ago, and as I told you what was inside it, your eyes widened. "Wow," you whispered, as you opened it. "I can't believe you kept all of these."

"I saved them for you and your brother," I told you. "I started saving them before you were even born, just for a moment like this one."

You spent a long time looking at each letter, your face softening as you read. I knew then that starting that file was one of the best parenting decisions I could have made- Those letters drove home my message to you more than my own words ever could.

Daughter, I hope that these letters help convince you to never give up when you know you have something special to offer the world. If you use failure as fuel to get better instead of confirmation of your inadequacy, you will be amazed at how high you can soar.

I love you,

Mom