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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Former U.S. Ambassador Suzi LeVine shares the impact of failure on her journey

The ambassador touched on topics of failure, grace when facing adversity.


Tisch College, located in Barnum Hall, is pictured on April 7, 2023.

The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life hosted an event with Former U.S. Ambassador Suzi LeVine titled “The Power of Mistakes and Failure” on Thursday. Sharing her experiences with failures in government, LeVine encouraged attendees to think more positively about how failure can impact career trajectory.

In the lecture, LeVine discussed the many failures she faced while working in office, specifically when it came to her working and setting up unemployment benefits in Washington. She shared that fraudsters had used people’s personal information to steal millions of dollars in benefits. According to LeVine, $650 million was stolen, but that she was able to recover $423 million of that sum. LeVine described the situation as a systemic failure but noted that there were many lessons to be learned from this situation.

LeVine continued her lecture by offering a new perspective on the concept of failure. She connected conflict in the personal lives of members in the audience with the scrutiny government officials often face when the public points fingers trying to put blame on someone. She explained a better way to talk to people about their failures.

You can send them a note and just say, ‘I’m thinking about you, I imagine that this is really hard.’ And that would be super meaningful for them, crazy meaningful … And it doesn’t mean you judge them, it means that you love them,” LeVine said.

LeVine also spoke about the type of mindset listeners should adopt when thinking about failure.

“I want people to understand that it is not just okay to make mistakes and fail, but expect it. Everybody’s [making mistakes],” LeVine said. “And in addition to that, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow, not an opportunity to feel ashamed or upset.”

LeVine further spoke about perspectives one should have on failure, especially when looking at governmental failures. She shared her belief that failure should not be viewed as an obstacle.

“It is how we learn and grow and when you look from a governmental standpoint, [where iti seems that everything is] perfection, that implies that we are not perfect to begin with,”  LeVine said. “It is a constant pursuit, and humans are necessarily fallible, and if we hold ourselves to infallible standards, we will always fail.”

LeVine compared learning from failures to iPhones, noting how they are updated to improve, much like what we should be doing.

“They [iPhones] all have problems and over time, things iterate and get better, and provide more services or more support. And that’s the technology paradigm,” LeVine said. “But that [technology paradigm] needs to also be the case in so many other dimensions of our lives.”

LeVine also spoke on her experience of being the first diplomat to speak at a “FuckUp Night,” a separate global series that hosts business professionals to speak about their career failures in order to normalize mistakes.

“Diplomats don’t go and speak at FuckUp nights,” LeVine said. “It was very special because it was an opportunity to both honor characteristics that’s unique for the United States in enabling and allowing and learning from that and creating and allowing space for that.”

LeVine used an example of Switzerland to compare their type of government to the type we have in the United States.

“The United States [has] three branches of government. I would argue that Switzerland has four and that fourth is citizens. As a result, that relationship with people is all that much more important,” LeVine said.

“If people see you as completely untouchable, as this perfect little formed shape in a corner, that’s not accessible. But somebody who just like them stubs their toe, has scuffed shoes, has mistakes and somehow gets up and keeps going is a really great point of connection.”

LeVine also emphasized the importance of having grace.

“I think we need to embrace grace more. And that’s not just grace with others, it’s grace with yourself,” LeVine said. “But again, if you’re thinking you’re the only person making a mistake, that’s really hard to do. But when you know that everybody is, and everybody’s experienced that in some way, shape or form it’s a little more comforting.” 

“I’m gonna go back to that word grace, not erase,” LeVine said. “[Grace is] something we need to really dig into and understand because we are holding people accountable in ways that humans can’t deliver.