How to Fail – Reflections on One of my Big Leaps in 2013

January 3, 2014

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famous failures

I took the Interior Design Fundamentals Exam (IDFX) last October. It’s the first in a series of three intensive interior design licensing exams. There are a variety of tracks which you can take to get your licensing and be a full licensed member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). They are all complicated and not worth repeating here.


While I was studying last fall, I had many friends ask me to write about my experiences. It was such a colossal slog the first time that I didn’t have time to do anything but live it with an occasional bout of Facebook humor here and there.
Many people think that designers just pick colors, order furnishings and create pretty draperies. In fact, fully licensed interior designers have gone to school for at least 42 credit hours if not four full years and maybe a masters. They are required to have at least two thousand hours of experience before they can even apply to take the second and third parts of the exam.

My track requires over 7,000 work hours as I took the minimum amount of education as a “mature” student, one who already has a BA and an MBA on the wall. Interior Design is my second career. Marketing and client relations in the financial services world was my first. Yes, that means I really DID sit on your side of the desk and I DID have to make those management and budget decisions you do. And even non-licensed designers are required to take continuing education credit hours to remain in good standing with ASID, which includes yours truly. This year, I took a class in Google Sketchup, while studying for the exam. Note to self – in the future do not take continuing ed during the exam studying process.
What did I learn?
leap really housewives blog
One. Sometimes when you leap you fall. Failing means simply that I tried. If you don’t try, where do you end up? Stuck in the back of a cubicle wondering what might have been…
Multiple Choice Test

I started this journey back in May about two years earlier than I thought I could. I was approached by my former interior design program director and professor at a party (in which we said goodbye to another dear professor, who took an unbelievable amazing life change to Germany). My director, Rob, said the rules have changed (again what’s new in the world of ASID? lol!) and you are already qualified to take the IDFX. Mind you this was about two weeks before the deadline. I thought really Rob are you crazy? I can’t pull this together that fast! How will I do this? But I sent in my application fee, got together my transcripts (thanks to the quick acting folks at Fairfield University), purchased my study materials and joined an online study group.
I had no idea that meant learning the difference between a stringer and a baluster, a riser and a tread, a bypass and a bifold. Or the length, width and slope of a ramp as required by the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Or how to create schedules and specifications and when to use them and why. Or that I would have to cover all of these knowledge areas (copied from as listed below:
1. Knowledge of and skill in programming, sustainability and site analysis

2. Knowledge of and skill in the application of design theory and the relationship between human behavior and the designed environment

3. Knowledge of and skill in integration of building systems and construction

4. Knowledge of and skill in sourcing and research as it relates to manufacturers’ and vendors’ information regarding furniture, fixtures and equipment

5. Knowledge of and skill in development and use of construction drawings, schedules and specifications

6. Knowledge of and skill in measuring, drafting and technical drawing conventions

7. Knowledge of and skill in visual, written and verbal design communication methods and techniques
Is your head spinning yet? Yeah that’s how I felt all summer. Now it doesn’t look nearly so daunting.
Henry Ford on Failure
Two. Failing allows me to assess what went wrong and then move forward in strengthening the areas that need improvement.
The first thing that I realized is just having an online support/study group wasn’t enough for me. In my business I belong to a mastermind group, have an accountability partner and a coach – all who keep me motivated to stay on track and keep moving forward. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely business. Studying for a test alone is much, much  worse. It was awful. I wanted to be doing ANYTHING but studying. There I was sitting on the beach reading construction manuals while my daughter and husband built sand castles and played in the surf. By the fall, I either studied in Starbucks or the local university library just so I could be around other people. One of my design colleagues also just missed passing the exam, so we have teamed up as success buddies. Phew!
Second, National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) provides a breakdown of the percentage of questions scored correctly in each section. I knew that I was going to struggle with the construction part of the exam (after all I am not a carpenter), but I was surprised to see how much room for improvement I have on visual, written and verbal design communication. I mean really? I do this every day. Who knew there were very specific systems and requirements and an entire language for it. My first Kindle purchase this time around was the primer on this area Maureen Mitton’s Interior Design Visual Presentation. Remember that one from design school? Yep can’t find my copy and I didn’t realize I needed to study it. There were a lot of books listed on the study materials list for NCIDQ.
Shall Not Pass funnyjunk
Third, I can’t cram for a test, any test. Never have, never will. It’s just not in my wiring. And yet I attempted to cram for this one. I need to allocate much more study time much earlier. I will have to sacrifice many of these winter Saturdays (better than missing the beach!) to several hour stints at the library. I had a good plan the first round. It just needs to be better this time around.
Real failing would be scrapping it, throwing in the towel, calling it a day. Real failing would be burying my head in the sand and saying I can’t or I won’t try again. Last time I checked that is just not who I am. It helps to have a husband who has taken the landscape architecture licensing exam. He really understood what this felt like and has promised to give me more study time. But does he really know how much more? LOL!
successthrufailure derwinlgray
Three. Failure doesn’t define me.
It was just a test. Ok a really important test. But I can take it again. And seeing as I only missed the passing grade by 12 points I know that I can pass it next time. In fact missing it by only 12 points gave me a lot more confidence than I had when I walked out of the test, “knowing” that I had failed. How did I know? This test was hard. I took the Series 7 and that was no cakewalk but I took a three month class every single week. That was a better way to study for me.
And maybe I am a little older now than I was then (just a little lol!) and so it was a lot harder to study and stay focused. And now I am married and have a child and run my own business and am the executor of my friend’s will and a thousand other things that compete with my time. Those aren’t excuses – just realities. This time I am studying more sooner and smarter. I bought books I haven’t read in years so that I can fill the knowledge gaps, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, I will pass it the next time.
emma-watson-on fear of failure

It doesn’t define me because I still have clients who need my help and I can still help them without the license. I just take on projects that are appropriate for my knowledge base and skill set. My license will broaden the types of projects I can take and that’s great. But in the meantime, I am still open for business, sharing my unique talents and having a blast doing what I love the most. And that’s what really matters.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly January 3, 2014 at 6:03 pm

wow… such a candid raw post to share with all of us. Thank you for sharing your story. I think through what you called “failure” we all can learn to get up, dust off and go again.


teri January 5, 2014 at 10:30 am

Thanks for keeping it real, Catherine! We all fail in our lives, and like you said – throwing in the towel and returning to the cubicle was not an option and because of that, you keep going..and I love your stamina. As Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” You go, girl!


Cena Block from January 6, 2014 at 11:03 am

Failure – just a word… Most often points to what was missing. Not Doing is worse. Thanks for sharing your journey with us as inspiration!


Resovate January 30, 2014 at 11:37 am

Thanks Cena. Spending time with peeps like you has allowed me to feel I can share more openly about my journey. And authenticity is where it is at.


Alyssa Johnson January 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Thanks for being so real! Too many times, we like to act like we’ve got it all together so people only see how brilliant we are. I love it when the authenticity shines through. It really is through my failures that I’ve learned the most.


Resovate January 30, 2014 at 11:36 am

No question, Alyssa. I have always learned from my failures too!


Dorothy Pang, The Natural Fertility Expert January 6, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Sometimes we set goals and need more time than we thought to reach them. It’s important to be patient with ourselves when needed.


Resovate January 30, 2014 at 11:36 am

So true Dorothy. Everything happens for a reason. I am really enjoying the process of studying the material again. It’s a much less stressful experience this time around.


Nancy Moon January 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Wonderful blog, so transparent! It was great to see you last night, thanks for speaking!


Resovate January 30, 2014 at 11:35 am

Thank you so much for stopping by, Nancy. It was a pleasure to see you as well. I am really excited about adding speaking to my writing.


Debbie DiBella April 4, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Absolutely fantastic blog! Am sorry I didn’t see it sooner. I think you are a hero for doing such an amazing job your 1st try at it, and am inspired by it! It’s not a failure by any definition, and I’m glad you don’t see it as one either. Am cheering for you!
PS Did you know that John F Kennedy Jr flunked the NY Bar 3 times before passing it? It appeared on the cover of the NY POST each time. Thankfully, we don’t have to endure that!


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