Part 2: Fear, career potholes and the weight of social shame.
“I’m afraid to tell people that I am closing my business because I’m afraid of what they’ll think,” was one admission from a panelist.
“My identity was so tied to my job/title that now that I am on my own, I’m not sure how to handle that,” was another.
One acquaintance in the audience seemed a little hesitant when he told me that he had jumped back into the corporate world – as if I might think that was a bad thing because… I might see it as a failure on his part, somehow. (Why would I? People change jobs all the time. people open and close businesses too. It’s a natural cycle.)
Weird how all these different situations had one thing in common: Fear. There was far more angst in that room than I had anticipated. Lots of private thoughts along the lines of “what will people think?” and uneasiness about the stigma that comes from having perhaps failed at something. Lots of people not quite comfortable with lying about it but not quite comfortable admitting it either.
Why? The term social shame comes to mind. Almost everyone in the room seemed traumatized by having been fired, laid off or having failed at building a successful business.
More than a few people in that room worried about what admitting to having failed (or being fired or downsized) might do to their personal brand too. That’s a hell of a burden to carry around, and an unnecessary one at that.
And you know what? I get it. Most of us have been there or are there or will be there at some point. Case in point: In almost 20 years of being an adult, I’ve been fired twice. Not laid off: Fired. For a long time, I was ashamed to admit it. I thought people would hold it against me, that they would assume I sucked at my job or had done something horrible to lose my job. I assumed it would be a double black mark on my employment record. Then one day I realized that was ridiculous. The failures were not my own.
The first time I was fired was a simple case of a CEO being a bully. Dignity and self-respect won. The job lost. As much as I enjoyed the steady paycheck and the job itself, it was an easy choice to make. The loser in that short conflict was the company, not me. (I went on to better and greater things. They didn’t.)
The second time was because my boss wanted me to sign off on fraudulent invoices and bonus manipulation, among other things. I refused to take part in it. The choice was again simple for me: I didn’t need a paycheck that badly. (I’m not going to federal prison for any employer. Not my idea of a good career move.) I was fired within days of refusing to join the scheme. Again, guess who was the loser in that instance? For the second time in my career, I went on to better and greater thing. They didn’t.
As it turns out, getting fired was a great move for me: None of the jobs I had until I went off on my own involved flying to Sydney or Amsterdam or Dubai for business. None of them gave me the opportunity to speak in front of big crowds or meet so many interesting professionals from all over the world. None of those jobs ever gave me the flexibility to spend 2 months in France in the summer with my wife and kids (and dogs) and work from there if I wanted to. None of them would have allowed my life-long dream of publishing a book (and now there are more on the way). I don’t have to work with assholes or shady people if I don’t want to. I don’t have to kiss anyone’s ass to get a promotion. I don’t have to deal with back-stabbers or mean, jealous petty people anymore. Nobody micromanages me. I don’t have to lie to anyone. I have the freedom to succeed or fail on my own terms. There’s also the risk of failure. I have to live with that, but it’s worth it. I love what I do. I love my freedom, however short-lived it may be.
None of these things would have happened if I hadn’t been fired. Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to my professional career. I was lucky that it’s happened to me not once but twice. The fact that I only get fired once per decade tells me I’m still playing it way too safe. Imagine if I had been fired more often: I would have gotten to this point in my career a lot sooner. What I wouldn’t give for that. (This might be a good place to point out that both of these jobs were in South Carolina – a “right to work state” – where anyone can be fired for pretty much anything at any time for any reason with complete impunity.)
The folks at IDEO are right: Fail early and often. The faster you fail, the faster you work out the bugs. It’s a process. If there’s anything I wish I knew how to do better, it’s this: Quitting. If I knew how to quit, how to walk away, I would save myself the trouble of getting fired at all. (I’m still working on that.)
The thing is, I know this will fail too. What I am doing now won’t last forever. I’ll eventually fire myself or fail outright. Maybe I’ll take a job with an agency or with a company on the client side. Or maybe I’ll just decide to go open up an adventure-racing school in South Africa or a photo studio in Antibes. Why not? Life is an adventure. Don’t fight it. Roll with the punches. Go with the flow. See where the currents take you.
So here I was in this room, surrounded by people who felt pretty bad about having been fired or having (at least in their minds) failed in some way. Some were visibly ashamed. Others were mostly just confused about whether or not they should share what happened to them. Many were scared to some extent about what it meant, about what people might think, about how it would hurt their image or their chances of landing another good job in the future. I’ve been there too, and it’s not a great place to be in your life. No matter how clear your conscience may be, you still feel small, vulnerable and dejected.
For many of us, it goes far beyond fear and shame. There’s anger too: You feel betrayed by the people you served. You gave so much of yourself and made so many sacrifices for them – missing your kids’ soccer games, working late, often dealing with abuse or harassment, enduring ever-shrinking benefits and the annual insult commonly referred to as the annual “raise” because it was the right thing to do, because your believed it would eventually be worth it. You thought that if you could endure it long enough and jump through enough hoops, you would eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel, maybe even make a real difference. Well, that didn’t happen. Someone pulled out the rug from under you. All of the time, energy, love and hope you invested in that company, in your job, it all just evaporated. It’s an awful feeling. It’s traumatic. There’s no way to walk away from that unscathed. I guess the first thing to realize is that even though it’s happening to you, it isn’t just happening to you. It happens to pretty much everybody. It’s a lot easier to handle that kind of trauma and disappointment when you realize it happens to almost everyone. In fact, it happens to the best of us.
I wanted to make a point so I asked everyone in the room to raise their hands if they had ever been fired or laid off from a job. Almost everyone (including the panel) raised their hand. It was fascinating to see the looks of surprise on some people’s faces at the sight of all of those hands in the air. You could literally see the stress melt from a few of them just from knowing they weren’t alone. It helped, I think. At least I’d like to think so. You have to start somewhere.
Now… People in transition (moving back into the corporate world or moving out of it) could focus on personal branding and Klout score optimization. They could focus their energy on trying to become gurus and experts and ninjas, on raising their professional profiles by speaking at events and writing e-books… But none of that will really free them from the fear that will always hold them, their careers and their lives hostage. They’ll just be trading one prison for another, one dysfunctional professional path for another. And because that fear of social shame will be 1000x greater now that their career is “public” than when it was behind the corporate firewall, every potential failure along the way will carry with it a much greater burden. If you think that’s smart, go for it. If that sounds not so smart, you’re right. There’s more important inner work that needs to be done before launching into campaigns of self-promotion. Ask any political candidates whose campaign imploded about that. Ask any rock star or actor in rehab about it too. Ask any banker or accountant in federal prison the same question: How did you get here? Why did this happen? If they’ve given it any thought, they’ll all have the same answer. We’ll probably talk about that in Part 3.
What I want to focus on today though is fear: The fear of not only failing but admitting that you did. Now that I see how much damage and pain that kind of fear causes, I feel like sharing a few insights that our panel touched on with the rest of you. Some may apply to you. Others may not. You may disagree and that’s fine. I just hope that they will help somebody. Anybody.
So if you’re feeling bad about closing up shop or leaving a job, don’t. And if you know someone who’s having a really hard time with this right now, feel free to share this with them.
Here are a few takeaways from our panel on career transitions:
1. If you haven’t been fired at least once or twice in your career, you might not be doing it right. And if you haven’t failed once or twice at making a business successful, you probably aren’t thinking big enough. Go for failure #3 as soon as you can. Look, unless you’re insanely lucky, failure is part of the success equation. If you haven’t known any yet, chances are that you’re coloring inside the lines maybe a little too well. You might have even stopped moving forward and testing the limits of what you could do. If you’re 100% happy with that, great. If not, getting fired from a job that wasn’t right for you or not biting off more than you could chew with a big idea might not be the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. Sometimes, life has a weird and painful way of doing you favors. Try, fail, repeat. Try, succeed, repeat. Don’t ever stop. No matter what.
You might have heard it a thousand times already, but here’s the name I always think about when people wonder if they (or their spouse) can take one more failure: Thomas Edison. The guy tried and tried and tried to make his light bulb idea work until it did. Imagine if he had quit after 3 tries? 10 tries? 100? here’s what he had to say about when asked about his successive failures:
Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.
Try again. It doesn’t matter how many attempts it takes. Don’t quit just because it’s hard or people look at you funny. What have they ever done? You’ll never regret having tried and failed. I guarantee though that you will regret having quit or given up on a dream. There’s no question about it. Failure is necessary. Failure is good. It teaches you everything you didn’t think to ask.
2. If you’ve been fired or downsized, if your business has ever failed or run its course, you aren’t alone. It isn’t just happening to you. People get fired and laid off all the time. Companies fail or just get stuck. It happens. Every job ends. Companies close their doors. Departments lose their funding. Assholes who hate you get promoted and fire you just out of spite or fear or jealousy. Learn whatever you can from each experience and move on. As painful and embarrassing as failure of any kind it may be, it is never truly a failure if you’ve derived a valuable insight from it and try again. Dust yourself off and try again. Every pioneer went through the same thing. What put them in the history books is this: Where others would have given up, they didn’t. If you’re going to fail (and you will), you’re just like everyone else. If you want to get better results than everyone else, make every failure count.
3. Failures in your career hurt as much as failures in love. But pain is just pain. It wears off. Get a head start on the healing. Getting fired is like getting dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend. It stings. It makes you feel like an asshole. It puts your self-worth in question. We’re just wired that way. If you feel bad about getting canned or laid off, welcome to being human. It’s healthy. Mourn, take a week off. Then get going again. Don’t take any of it personally. See #2.
4. This one is important as it relates to social shame: Nobody holds it against you that you’ve “failed” at anything. Seriously. Nobody is going to talk about you behind your back and peg you a failure. (Okay… perhaps your enemies will, but who cares what they think? They’re assholes anyway.) People in your community will never hold it against you if you’ve lost your job or if your startup failed. No one will ever peg you a loser or damaged goods or a liability as long as you learn from the experience and move on.
Think about it: Do you sit around and make fun of people who’ve been laid off? When Apple fired Steve Jobs back in the day, did we all have secret parties to make fun of him? No. If we even cared, we wondered what he was going to build next. It was exciting. And you know what, if he hadn’t been fired from Apple when he was, Apple might not have become what it is today. Worst case scenario: People are indifferent to your successes or failures. They’re just too busy with their own lives to notice or care about yours as much as you think they do. The rest of us want the best for everyone around us. We want people to succeed and be happy. So… if you’re feeling bad about where you are, chin up: A lot of us are rooting for you.
This whole notion of social shame in regards to failure is an illusion. Don’t fall for it. Your bakery or web design company failed after 14 months? That’s too bad. You’re still everyone’s hero for trying. People will miss that bakery or web design firm, sure, but they’ll only care about one thing: Now what? If you took a job at XYZ Manufacturing, people will be glad you did. If you’re launching a startup in the spring with a few investors, they’ll be thrilled too. Everyone wants you to do well. No one will ever hold it against you if you tried and fail as long as you keep trying. Chin up, kid. You don’t have to apologize. You don’t need to spin it or put on airs. Everybody runs into hurdles. Nothing to be ashamed of. Ever. Don’t do that to yourself. It’s a waste of energy anyway.
5. To quote Tyler Durden, “you are not your job.” You can say that you are your profession, sure, but you are not your job.
For starters, being a brand manager isn’t the same as being VP of Brand Communications at SCB Telecom*. If some douchebag at SCB Telecom gave you the pink slip because you didn’t support his horrible program three years ago and now he can get even with you, go be a brand manager somewhere else. (Hopefully somewhere that will value your contributions a little more than SCB Telecom did.) Being a designer is more important than just being the lead glove designer at Gucci or Chanel. You’re a designer no matter who you work for or what you design. If your company fails, if your label gets sold off, if your boss chases half your team away, it doesn’t change what or who you are.
Whenever a job ends, your profession doesn’t. Hop to another island. It may take six months to find one. It may take ten years of island-hopping to find the right one. You might not ever be happy until you discover your very own island. It doesn’t matter. What island you live on doesn’t change what you are. A job is just a job, no matter how cool it is.
* (Made-up company.)
More than that, you are more than just your profession. You’re also a lot of other things: A parent, a brother or sister, someone’s child, friend and neighbor, a sports fan, a foodie, an artist, a runner, a kite surfer, an equestrian… whatever your interests are. You aren’t just your job. You’re also your interests, your hobbies, your passions, your relationships, your life experiences and more still. Chances are that who you are is far more rooted in all of these things than to your job. So does your value as a human being.
Remember those 5 most common regrets people talk about on their deathbeds? That.
6. Don’t take failure so seriously. In fact, don’t take yourself so seriously either. Relax so you can learn. Learn so you can solve. Solve so you can adapt. Adapt so you can overcome.
Fear is the enemy of innovation. It’s the enemy of design, the enemy of progress. Fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, fear of rejection: They’re all working against you. Whenever fear tells you to back off from an idea or a goal, that’s when you know you’re onto something.
One way to kill fear of failure dead is to not worry so much about the shame and embarrassment that you’ve attached to that fear. Laugh more. Have more fun with what you’re doing. Don’t let stress get in the way. Whether you’re winning or losing, have fun. Ever listened to an 80-year old tell an embarrassing story from their youth? As mortified as they may have been then, they can look back on it now and laugh. That doesn’t suck.
If you’re going to crash and burn, do it with style. Don’t slink away. Crash, burn, get up, take a bow, then go laugh it off. If you can ever learn to laugh at failure and carry on, no one and nothing will ever be able to break your will. Ever.
Look around. Almost everyone around you has failed at something. They may hide it well, but they have.
7. Put it all in perspective: Nobody is shooting at you. You aren’t being targeted by enemy artillery. You didn’t just lose a leg or an arm in a roadside I.E.D. attack. You don’t have cancer. There’s no giant tidal wave about to crush and drown you, no nuclear power plant a mile away about to melt down. That shit is bad. Losing your job or closing down your company isn’t. Get over the fear and embarrassment. They’re a waste of energy. You’re going to be fine. Okay? This is small stuff.
8. Every job has a beginning and an end. Period. One way or another, the job you have today will end someday. Could be tomorrow. Could be next week. Could be in twenty years. How it ends or why might not even matter. What matters is that the inevitable is… well, inevitable.
If you’ve never seen The Kingdom, there’s a great scene in which FBI Director James Grace (played by the always brilliant Richard Jenkins) is being pressured to act against his conscience by the Attorney General (his boss). It’s clear in the scene that the AG won’t take no for an answer. James Grace knows if he doesn’t play nice, his career at the FBI is over. Instead of caving to pressure just to save his own ass, he shares with the AG what he learned long ago about the nature of jobs. After a brief pause, this is his answer to the threat:
You know, Westmoreland made all of us officers write our own obituaries during Tet, when we thought The Cong were gonna end it all right there. And, once we clued into the fact that life is finite, the thought of losing it didn’t scare us anymore. The end comes no matter what, the only thing that matters is how do you wanna go out: On your feet or on your knees.
I bring that lesson to this job. I act, knowing that someday this job will end, no matter what. You should do the same.
There’s a lot of wisdom in that answer. A lot of courage too, but a lot of wisdom. Heed it.
Every company runs its course. Every job ends. When you remember that you are far more than your job, that life is about more than the title on a business card, the necessary failures you’ll encounter along the way won’t seem so big anymore.
Do the best you can. If you trip and fall or life punches you in the face, get back up. Lean on your family and friends. Banish embarrassment to the curb. Don’t bear the burden of fear, shame or sadness alone. Do whatever you have to do to get back on your feet as fast as possible and just start putting one foot in front of the other again.
Someday, when you’re on your deathbed too, you will regret every minute you wasted feeling sorry for yourself. You’ll wish you had a way to erase every day that you “waited” to try again and do them all over again.
I’ve rambled long enough. Stay tuned for Part 3. We’ll be talking about the danger and ultimate price of bullshit. In the meantime, put your own work aside and go help someone kick ass today. You’ll be amazed how rewarding that feels.
* * *
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Just what I needed to read! Thank you.
I wish someone had written that a few years ago. It might have saved me a lot of grief. 😀
This completely hits home for me, and this was perfect timing for these reminders. Once I was laid off from a job I threw my life into, and 4 years later, it still haunts me and tells me I was a failure and a bad worker. I’ve thought about jumping the corporate ship to do consulting full time, and just last night told myself “how are you going to work for yourself the next 30 years? If you fail – you can never go back to the corporate world.” Of course this is bunk, and this post helped me realize that. Thanks!
There are a few issues here. Some things you raise I agree with 100%, but one thread of this bugs me. Where to start.
I agree that fear of what others may think is a disproportionate problem in today’s society. I used to worry what people would think when I would tell them I work for my family’s marketing firm. Then I realized that actually, being the 3rd generation of a family to work in the same place is actually pretty cool, and other peoples’ baggage couldn’t bug me anymore. And that’s really what it’s all about in the end -accepting you for you. Once you do that, people can ping you all they want. It won’t throw you.
I also agree that you are not your job. I don’t know that I would go to Tyler Durden’s extent to separate oneself from his or her everyday existence, but it is true – we define ourselves by our jobs, by our titles, by our desks, by the stuff those titles can buy us, etc. And that’s sad. There are lots of brilliant people around who don’t have designer clothing, a Mercedes, and the finest mahogany furniture. They’re still kind of big deals.
Here’s where your argument bugs me though – and I’ve seen people frame this similarly so maybe I’m the weird one. But this whole romanticization of failure is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I wrote about this after reading Seth Godin’s Poke in the Box, in fact, because that also rubbed me the wrong way.
There are two facets that often get missed. First, there is a fine line between fighting fear and recklessness, and I feel that arguments like yours never define that difference. Tyler Durden, for example, was reckless in his fighting fear. He was irresponsible, socially and otherwise.Fight Club romanticizes that, but hey, it’s a movie. I think that a lot of people may read “fighting fear” in this kind of context as, “Great, I’m going to chuck everything and make like Paul Gaugin.” Or, “I’m going to fight the fear that society is overtaking me, so I’m going to blow people up like the Unabomber.” Is that in your words, no. But where is the line? If we are romanticizing failure, how then can we aks someone to tone it down when they start going haywire?
The other part of the “failure is good” argument that grinds my grist is that not everyone has the luxury to fail. It’s rock hard, cold economics. If I lost my job right now, even for the best of reasons, I would be 100% completely screwed. That is a real fear, founded in societal realities I can’t just shirk cuz I’m tired of ’em. I don’t have the economic room to start a business and fail at it right now. I don’t have the economic room, if I needed to, to put my foot down and say no to a boss. I’m not little Orphan Annie, but I don’t have a giant cushion under me right now, and a lot of people don’t. Many, in fact, are significantly closer to the edge than I am. If they stick with jobs they don’t like, is that a personal failure? I don’t think we can say that.
Maybe I’m missing something, which I’d be happy to learn. And I apologize for the long comment, but this kind of argument, as you can see, pushes my buttons.
There’s nothing romantic about failure. If anyone romanticizes failure, they’re trying to rationalize beyond what it actually means. Failure is ugly. It’s scary. It has real life implications like “how do I pay my bills now?”
Someday, I’ll have to write about the difference between controlled, purposeful failure as a process (the kind you go after in product development and prototyping, for instance) and accidental failure like… not winning a championship no matter how hard you tried, or having to close down your restaurant and watching all of your savings evaporate. From a practical standpoint, these are not the same kinds of failure. The English language should have more than one word for it, really, so we can tell the difference between one and the other. We agree.
I am not advocating that you flip the bird at reality and ignore your bills. I understand not having the economic room. And I don’t remember saying that people stick to jobs they hate are failures either. Here’s what I am saying – and it goes back to the deathbed confessions of Part 1:
1. Don’t live in fear. It’s no way to live. It’s no way to die either, one wasted day at a time. You hate your job? Okay. I’ve hated some of my jobs but stayed there because I thought I had to. Because I had this notion that if I quit (or got fired), I would be out on my ass with no economic room. So I did the smart thing, the safe thing: I didn’t quit these jobs I hated until I found a better one. My bills got paid, sure. We had heat in the house and food on the table. But I also know that I wasted those years on settling for the notion that my two choices were either a job I hated and didn’t pay me what it should or financial ruin + the stigma of being unemployed. It was bullshit. Staying there six months until you find a different way of taking care of your bills is one thing. Becoming a slave to your fear is another. Here’s what happens with shitty jobs: They don’t pay well. They waste your time. They enslave you in every way imaginable. You get so used to being on that edge that you’re paralyzed. You live in constant fear of going over.
You know what else is true of those jobs? They always come to an abrupt end and you end up on your ass anyway. What I am saying is, better it happens sooner rather than later. That way, when you get back on your feet, you don’t look back and wish you had been able to see the situation with the benefit of hindsight instead of through the prism of fear and stress that you were possessed by then. There’s no cookie-cutter right or wrong choice, Margie. There’s what’s necessary and that comes first. Okay. But you can’t let that fear cloud your vision or your entire life will just be a succession of jobs that will keep you close to that edge and the same situation will just repeat itself over and over again until you fall off for real.
I see these guys who lost their corporate jobs at 55 years old and they’re lost. They go from interview to interview in their suits, trying to pretend they’re okay and they’re not. You know why they don’t ever get the job? Because you can smell the fear on them. Fear is contagious. It’s like a plague. We instinctively want to get away from it. If bad luck were a fragrance, it would smell like that fear. We don’t want it rubbing off on us. So these guys don’t get hired and it gets worse and worse.
You want to know when they get hired? When they stop giving a shit about what they look like. When they can tuck that fear away and just say “fuck it, I need a job.” They show up in normal clothes, they don’t pretend to be successful anymore, and they answer an interviewer’s questions honestly. It might not be a great job and it certainly isn’t the job they want, but it pays the bills (or at least some of the bills) and that’s what’s necessary. One thing at a time. Get yourself off the edge first. Or at least get a really good grip you feel comfortable with. Drop the dead weight that’s pulling you over.
2. Gain control of your life and career. If you were a millionaire corporate CFO a year ago and today you’re a carpenter on a job site, who gives a shit? the asshole who sold you out for a bonus? Fuck him. We’ll see how clever and smug he is on his deathbed. The guy working as a carpenter, he gets to work with his hands. He gets to work outside and wear jeans. He gets to go home at the end of the day with a clear conscience: he didn’t have to fire anyone today. He didn’t sit on his ass watching his stocks go up and down. You know what he did? He built something. He created value. It isn’t where he’ll always be, but it isn’t all bad. It’s a job. There’s worse.
What this post is about isn’t necessity. It’s about interpretation. What I am saying is this: If you’re that guy, don’t be embarrassed about being a carpenter now. There’s nothing embarrassing about working in a factory or taking a job as a copywriter. It might be a waste of your abilities, sure. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates probably wouldn’t be as valuable to the world as part time employees at Best Buy. This is true. But again, the post isn’t about that. It’s about not being embarrassed by those times in our lives when we run into that kind of hurdle. If you have to be a carpenter or a sales associate at Best Buy for a while, then own that. Learn that skill. Take what you’ve learned into your next job. Don’t let shame (or the fear of shame) become a prison. It isn’t worth it. You know what the ultimate tragedy of that is? That it might not occur to a lot of people until it’s too late.
None of this is about quitting jobs or turning getting fired into sport. It’s about not letting it get to you. It’s about what fear does to you, how it warps your perception of what’s really going on. Fear literally gives you tunnel vision. You stop seeing the whole forest. The focus of your “what if” questions turns to one direction: Falling off the edge. The other direction (what if this takes me off the edge altogether) ceases to be a possibility.
Fear is what makes people get stuck. So start with this:
1. Getting fired or closing down your business is bad enough. Don’t make it worse by letting fear of what people will think paralyze you.
2. If you’re unemployed for a while, don’t be embarrassed. Own it. Ask for help. It’s either ask for help and maybe get some or pretend everything’s fine and get no help at all. Do what’s necessary: between saving face and paying your bills, what’s most necessary? (You would be surprised how many people will say one but do the other.)
3. Bad shit happens. We get over it. Years later, it doesn’t seem so bad. Always take a minute to imagine you’re looking back at your situation with that kind of hindsight. It has a way of clarifying things for you, of putting them in perspective. Cancer’s a real problem. Losing your job or your business is a bump in the road. One will kill you whether you like it or not. The other doesn’t have to until you let it.
I’ll tell you a story about a bike shop someday and what I learned working there between corporate gigs.
Thanks for your great response, OB.
That’s interesting regarding different words for failure. Are there differentiating words in French? Seems like we run into that kind of scenario a lot with the English language. Take the word “friend” as another example. Is everyone REALLY your friend? Really? But I digress.
I do see your point. In my family we call what you are describing “the comfort zone.” It’s cozy there, and it’s much easier to stay in than it is to stay out. But I think a lot of times when these conversations arise the nuances you just described/reiterated are left out. Fighting the fear doesn’t mean leaving your job and hoping you can toss a Hail Mary in the meantime (I know someone who tried that some 15 years ago and they are still struggling).
Anywho – glad you clarified. We do agree, and it’s possible I overlaid previous conversations on to what you were saying here. For that I apologize. There are people in the online world who really DO romanticize failure, and it makes me want to gnaw my arm off. Which doesn’t make sense cuz that wouldn’t really bother them much.
Anywho, thanks again. My brain hamsters appreciate the conversation!
Great post, Olivier. Thanks for sharing such wonderful insights!
Glad you liked it. 🙂
Bon post! It was challenging to read it completely but I managed to focus, and it was worth it. I do believe that we constantly feel that in fact, we are our job, and it’s far from being so. There’s a clear distinction between job and profession, and we should remind us that concept more often.
Sometimes when you feel stagnated I guess it helps to read something like this post, I really enjoyed it.
We’re a shame-based society, to some extent. It’s kind of bred into us at school. Kids make fun of you if you’re different. That fear of social shame drives people to conform and fall in line. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to go against that grain but it’s worth it.
Exceptional. We are not our jobs. We are not our resumes. We are people. People with hopes, dreams, skills, talents, and more. The only thing that can stop us is ourselves.
The best is yet to come. F-ck the naysayers.
Pretty much, yeah. I mean… if you suck at playing the viola, maybe First Chair at the London Phil isn’t realistic, but it doesn’t mean you can’t find something you’re good at. Failure is ultimately giving in to difficulty. The rest is just details.
I struggle with this one. I have always felt connected to my success with work meaning I am somewhat acceptable as a person. As a sole proprietor for a long time, and now CEO of a small and struggling company, this is a royal pain in the ass. I need to focus on other things, like working out more, eating better, enjoying life sometimes – but it’s hard, because the work thing is still looming over me as something not yet resolved. At least when I’m dead I won’t have to worry about it anymore! 😉
We all struggle with it. How to be successful in our careers AND not become victims of that quest? When is too much, too much? When is too little, too little?
But that’s when we lose track of the real question: You aren’t your job. As successful as you may ultimately be, whatever you may be most known for, who are you? You are not Kristi Colvin, CEO or COO or CMO of FreshID. That isn’t who you were 10 years ago and that isn’t who you’ll be 10 years from now. The specific company, the specific job, that’s landscape. Who are you in that landscape?
The value is in who you are. That’s what you take with you everywhere you go. Jobs and companies just come and go.
Philosophers have often stated that behind fear of failing, is death.
Overall, good post to help each and everyone of us cope with failure.
I fully concur with point 6. “Don’t take failure so seriously. In fact, don’t take yourself so seriously either.” That reminder pushes the ego aside, calms it down until we’ve re-centered ourselves, to refocus and move on.
However, I can’t agree with point 4.'”This one is important as it relates to social shame: Nobody holds it against you that you’ve “failed” at anything. Seriously. Nobody is going to talk about you behind your back and peg you a failure.” Whether we like it or not, a good portion of our society, including ‘friends’ and family, will talk behind our backs or judge us when we encounter failure (job, marriage, projects). They will slap on the ‘failure’ word on our forehead. It’s a mean streak that all human beings should get rid of. It’s one of the many reasons people feel social shame, or I would rather call it a wounded social pride. It comes into play when we face failure. Our ego enters in full stride to make us feel this low. Human beings have become so disconnected with their inner Self that they struggle to attain self-fulfillment. That void or unhappiness triggers an unconscious feeling of victimisation, or feeling like a ‘nobody’.
So, I think that it’s important for us to be aware that often others do hold it against us or do talk about us behind our back. Ignoring it, will do us more harm. It’s equally important to develop thick skin and to remind ourselfves who we are (our strengths and limits),then it won’t matter what people have to say about us. It’s hard to do, (I know, because I go through it myself) but with hard work, it’s possible. Hope that made sense.
Social pressure to succeed is a disease!
Well, okay. That’s true. But hear me out:
1. If your friends are talking about you behind your back, they aren’t your friends. So… their opinion is irrelevant.
2. If anyone else talks about your behind your back, it doesn’t matter. They’re irrelevant.
3. People who are relevant may worry about you and feel bad for you, but they won’t hold it against you.
All of this is meant to be seen through the prism of the deathbed confession. When you’re lying there about to die and look back on your life, what will you regret? I’ll tell you what won’t matter to me one bit: What a few assholes said about me behind my back. At best, it won’t even be a blip on my radar. At worst, I’ll be happy about having eventually shut them up by bouncing back and turning that little hurdle into a launchpad.
I’m sure that when i was fired, a few people who hated me there gave each other high-fives. Well guess what: I don’t remember anyone’s name there anymore. Those who are still there will never accomplish anything. Those who left were fired too, and not for the right reasons. We all know the score, in the end.
Anyone who laughs at your misfortunes isn’t worth even ten seconds of your time. They’re nobody. The rest of us, we just want you to do well and we’ll help wherever and whenever we can. 😉
In this day and age where we’re all worried about our personal brand, failing is harder than ever. We can no longer fail privately, it’s all public now.
I’ve been fired, downsized numerous times, and fought a failing business. I’m told constantly that I can’t reveal my failures because it will tarnish my personal brand. Well sometimes I don’t want to be a brand, I just want to be a person. Failures and all.
It’s tough to have to close your business while trying to find a job and work odd jobs on the side just trying to not lose your house. Not that I have any experience battling that every day.
It’s tough to sell yourself as someone who has saved companies up to $44,000 per year and doubled many small business’s bottom lines while struggling to keep your own afloat.
It’s tough to be taken seriously as someone who consistently gets results and great returns for businesses yet can’t materialize that same magic in their own.
It’s tough, and being afraid will never make it easier. The only viable option is to move forward. It’s the only way we can move.
Failure gets glamourized far too often. There’s nothing glamorous about it. It hurts. It’s hard. It destroys our pride. Failure is a great teacher, but a lousy banker.
There is only one response to failure though, destroy it before it destroys you. Sometimes you have to swallow a little pride to get there but nothing washes away the bitterness of swallowed pride like a little taste of success. You’ll never succeed by succumbing to fear and avoiding action.
“Destroy it before it destroys you.” I like that.
Well, look… sometimes you’re so busy saving someone else that it doesn’t give you time to work on your biz. And it’s common, by the way. A fireman or an EMT might be awesome at saving other people but not so much at taking good care of themselves.
It’s natural to assume that the two are connected but they aren’t. I’m in the same boat: I’m good at fixing companies and making things work for other people. I suck at building my own company. I mean… It may look okay on the outside, but it’s a joke compared to a lot of other – far more successful – businesses. Why? Simple: It’s just not what I really love to do. The company is a means to an end. What I love is the work. I’ve often thought about hiring someone to be my boss so I can fool myself into thinking my biz is just another client. 😀
Basically, I’m a business surgeon. I’m not a hospital administrator. You may be too and that’s okay.
You are so right on with your assessment. It reminds me of when I was 16 and shopping for my first car. I saw an ad for a Chevy Nova that was owned by a mechanic. Upon mentioning it to my mechanic he replied, “Don’t do it kid. Mechanics are always too busy working on other vehicles to fix their own”.
Too often we see helping others as the way to make ourselves happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. It does all of those but unless we take the time to fix our own cars, we’ll eventually break down and lose our drive.
Thanks for this, Oliver. I could write an entire blog post about all of the reasons I agree and my own experiences… I’ll try to keep it short.
I’ve been laid off twice in the past three years. The first time, it led to a great consulting opportunity before two and a half years with the American Cancer Society. I am the father of a cancer survivor, so it was great doing something with a purpose.
I was then laid off again five months ago. This time, the opportunities didn’t come quickly. I became paralyzed in fear, trying to provide for a family of five. And I absolutely felt like a failure.
I’ve since refocused myself to starting my own business. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And I value the flexibility that ownership provides to be home with my family. Things have been progressing slowly, but they are progressing. I have a three month contract sitting on my table.
But you’re right. Trying to be an expert or a guru or a ninja like everyone else won’t get you anywhere. It’s why I’m branding myself on honesty, transparency and authenticity.
It’s still a struggle, so reading this helps. There are good days and bad days in this position, so it’s good to have a post like this to snap out of any irrational, negative thinking.
Hello there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.
Excellent as always Olivier. I read it at just the right time too. Good stuff. Good stuff that will make a difference to me personally.
This article was awesome.
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