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Bite-sized stories of failure and success. Failure bites. It’s painful, discouraging and embarrassing. Just the idea of failure, whether it’s a big messy fail or a small setback, can be hard to digest. It’s time to change the way we think about failure. Yes, failure may be all of those negative things, but failure is also a very important part of learning and growing. Behind every great success story is a long series of failures and challenges that were also learning experiences. Join host Dr. Kristin Brynteson as she talks with successful people about failure, growth and success to inspire you and take the bite out of failure.

Failure Bites - Ryan Prouty - 'Failing with Grace'

S01E09: Failing with Grace – Ryan Prouty

Ryan Prouty worked hard to get to her current position within NASA, but the road wasn't as straight as she might have expected.

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KB: Welcome to the Failure Bites podcast. I'm Kristin Brynteson, bringing you a new story of failure, growth, and success. I hate to lose. Losing is hard. Ask anyone who has ever played a competitive sport, and they will agree; losing is the worst. A loss can make you shake your fists and gnash your teeth. We are not always at our best when we lose, especially when we thought we would win. Painful and devastating losses are not only found on the field; they can happen at school or at work, too. In this episode, we hear from Ryan Prouty, manager in the Mission Integration and Operations Office for the International Space Station program at NASA. Ryan shares some powerful advice she received on how to best handle a disappointing situation.

RP: Six years ago, I found myself in a position to apply for what we call here at NASA, a deputy division chief role. It was also one where at that time in the space station program, there were no other females in the program leading at that level. For me, I had been acting in that role in the absence of a permanent position for over three months. So, I was uniquely postured to apply for this job, and it was the first time in my life I knew--I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that job was mine. I was already doing it. I knew this work. I'd been in this organization for eight years. I was set. It was mine. I walked out of that interview, and I felt amazing. I was like, there's no way they're not going to hire me. 

Well, guess what? I didn't get the job. And I was devastated. I honestly--it was this weird sort of out-of-body... I sat there in my boss's office, when he told me he didn't select me, I for the life of me, I was like, how is this even possible? I'm doing the job. I've been doing it for four months. They tell me I'm doing a great job, and I didn't get this job. And it was just... heartbreaking devastation for me. I left my manager's office, and then, in the back of my head, I'm replaying a conversation I had had with one of those senior leaders just days before this interview, and he told me, and I quote--I wrote this down so I'd never forget. "No one will pay attention to how you act if you get the job. But everyone will pay attention to how you behave if you don't." And at the time I got that advice, I thought it was the strangest pep talk I had ever received. I'm like, really? That's what you're going to tell me before I go into this interview?

But as I left my manager's office that day, those words came back to me. So, instead of going into my office and shutting the door and wallowing in my anger at that point or grief or whatever this turmoil of emotions were that were coming up in me... I walked straight by my office, and I went to the office of the man they had selected. I shook his hand, and I congratulated him, and in that moment, on the spot, he offered me the job he was vacating. And I took it. And the trajectory of my career from that moment changed exponentially. In taking that other job, which was a lateral level for me, it was not a step up--it wasn't a promotion, it wasn't anything else--but just in a different organization. But I put myself in a position where the next job I took, I got to do something no one else had ever done in space station. I got to do something maybe no one else has ever done in the government, and it was successful beyond most people's expectations. And the success of that role that I got to put myself in, and put myself out there, was probably the most rewarding and most difficult challenge of my entire career that I will never, ever, ever regret. The job I'm in now is a step above what I had even applied for six years ago, and I don't think I would be here, if I hadn't not been selected. People are always watching. They're watching to see what you do when you quote unquote fail because that's when people will really see what you're made of. But really a level deeper than that is maybe that's when we figure out what we're made of.

KB: How you react to a devastating loss speaks volumes about your character. Do you respectfully walk onto the field to shake hands while offering a hearty "Good game!" or do you throw your equipment around the dugout while cursing the outcome? Each choice says something different to the people watching the game. And in the game of life, well, Ryan's right; people are always watching. There's a lot of truth in the advice she received. And, like she learned, losing could provide just as many opportunities as winning, as long as we lose graciously. I'm Kristin Brynteson, and you've been listening to Failure Bites, taking the bite out of failure, one story at a time. You can hear from our conversation with Ryan on an upcoming episode of the STEM Read Podcast. Both Failure Bites and the STEM Read Podcast are available where all your favorite podcasts are found. Subscribe today, and leave us some feedback. We promise we'll take it well. This podcast was produced by NIU STEAM at Northern Illinois University. Your future, our focus.


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