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How to Reach for Resilience After Failing the CPA Exam

Posted by Dr. Phil Yaeger on Aug 21, 2017 9:06:00 AM

People often look around after experiencing a setback and wonder, "What did I do wrong that all these other people did right?" You feel surrounded by individuals who are "making it," but you are coming up short. You may feel jealousy, and think some people don't deserve their success. Or, you'll see others who seem like they should have attained their goals already, but are struggling. You may feel like that about yourself.

"Resilience happens when we put practices into place enabling us not to give up but also help us see the reality of our situation by learning from the past, understanding why we feel the way we do, and helping us look at the future in a different light."

The temptation is to come up with reasons why others are successful, and you aren't. You can attribute it to luck. Or, maybe their success was handed to them by a relative. Are they just naturally smarter?

Alternatively, maybe all of those other people are deserving and worked hard for their success.  That makes you feel okay, but still like you are missing some key factor that could make the difference. And maybe you are.

There is always a story about what it took to be in the right place, at the right time. Or, knowing the right person, doing the right thing. Even those who catch a big break have make conscious decisions that lead to them catching a big break rather than someone else.

Former Contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Brad Herzog, wrote an article on luck in which he delves into his game show experience and how it led to him being a best-selling author. At the time, his book had been floundering, likely headed to the front row of a surplus dollar store between bags of jumbo popcorn and last year's calendars. He had done what many authors work towards in getting published - he actually wrote a book at got it published!

However, the lack of buzz hadn't landed him any great fortune. After he had exited the show with a $64,000 prize, a bigger award awaited. Regis Philbin asked him about what he did, and he mentioned his book. He said this on-air at a time when a large portion of America tuned into the show. The book he wrote had an immediate spike in sales. In fact, he would have been on the top of online book sales, but fell just short at the #2 spot because an English woman had just written a book about a boy wizard with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead.

After his game show appearance and new life breathed into his book, many started telling him how lucky he was to be there and have his book take off. From the outside, it would appear so. He simply got to be in front of a lot of people and say “I have a book.” Herzog heard over and over about his “luck” from friends and admirers, but held his tongue. Far more went into it and Herzog knew that. He had to answer the questions right to be on the show, pass the fastest finger rounds, and answer enough questions for Regis to ask him about his book at the $64,000 round. Also, he had to write the book in the first place which is no small feat. So, when he heard about his “luck”, he merely told people “Well, you make your own breaks.”

Herzog focused on qualities that help with “luck” and he listed opportunism, optimism, intuition, and resilience as makers of good fortune. When it came to opportunism, he referenced experimenters who asked people to rate themselves as lucky or unlucky and then administered a simple test that required the participants to count the number of photos in a newspaper. The test took the unlucky people about two minutes while their lucky counterparts finished in mere seconds. The reason was the half page message on the second page announcing that there were 43 photos in the paper and you could stop counting. Those who rated themselves as unlucky people were focused on finding answers rather than completely understanding the task at hand, and thus missed the opportunity.

As far as optimism, Herzog talks of Australian speed skater Steven Bradbury, who knew he wasn't good enough to win on skill alone. So, Bradbury administered a tactic in which he hung as close as he good behind the leaders as to not get caught up in the pack and hope something happened in front of him so he could advance. A quarter-final disqualification of another racer gave Bradbury a spot in the semifinals where he advanced with a second place finish after three racers collided in front of him. Then, in the finals, he was in dead last of the 1,000-meter race with 50 meters left when all four of his opponents got tangled up in the last turn. Every single one of them fell and Bradbury skated away with the gold. Australians coined a term for finding unexpected success, “pulling a Bradbury.” While it seems extremely lucky, his success was a calculated plan that worked out.

Lastly, there is resilience. Probably the most important attribute because opportunism, optimism, and intuition will all fail at one time or another. What matters is how people view the failure and to what degree it leaves them feeling like a failure. Herzog references research done at Cornell in which neutral observers looked at medal winners after they finished their event and when they received their medals. The bronze winners seemed happier than silver medalists. They won when they were very close to not winning anything. However, the silver medal winners were less than pleased. They were so close to gold. The author of The Luck Factor and University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. Professor in public understanding of psychology calls it “denying fate”. He says this is what “transforms bad luck into good”. The same can be said about any failure we face. Seeing an unfortunate event as something that happens, or accepting fate, and only waiting for the next good thing to happen without learning from the failure can take away what we do control.

Resilience happens when we put practices into place enabling us not to give up but also help us see the reality of our situation by learning from the past, understanding why we feel the way we do, and helping us look at the future in a different light.

Sometimes it's easy to act as if the rug has been pulled out from under our feet when there was just a slight tug. Failure is just a time to catch our balance a little and move on. Ask the question, what position does it take to be in to find good fortune? Hopefully, you can figure it out and have people calling you lucky in no time.

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