Coming to terms with the F word

OK, so I failed at my last job. That’s true, at least it is to me, but the word is so hard for some they won’t let me say it — they shake their heads and insist it’s something else, don’t believe it, not for a minute. It’s just personalities. Or don’t let anyone else define you, both of which are true.

Maybe it’s the ‘F’ grade from school I was so afraid of and what it meant, flat rejection. I was so scared of it I don’t remember receiving one, but still have the occasional dream I’m going into a final exam for a class I never attended and I’m sure to fail it.

We’ve been told that failure is good, because you learn things from failure and it’s a necessary part of life. You have to get comfortable with failure time and again if you’re to grow or produce good work. In my last job, the notion of ‘fail fast’ caught on — the thought you need to suss out problems as soon as possible. It saves time and money. Get inside the nooks and crannies and look for pests in the woodwork.

Failure is the backbone of launching small, controlled tests for a new product when the consequences of failure are less. Still, gathering the learnings or talking about the mistakes you made as a project team requires careful handling when it’s presented to executives and others, for how it will be interpreted. Could those mistakes have been avoided? We know logically that failure is good, but it’s hard because we don’t do well with failure. Not as kids, not as adults.

I count my failure as a compilation of decisions, or indecisions, that led me somewhere I no longer recognised and didn’t fit. I didn’t fit, didn’t belong, because it wasn’t true to me and I couldn’t fake it. The thought I wasn’t doing a good enough job was starting to threaten a reputation I’d built for myself — like, I was letting a part of myself disappear.

And that’s funny, because we enter into vocations thinking it will be a good fit for us but we don’t really know — it’s a kind of test unto itself. You look for indications that it will work, and hope for the best. But a new boss or co-worker can turn things on a dime, too.

When I left my last job there were two questions: why are you leaving and where are you going? And I had different answers each time for both questions, and they were all true. And then I went through an outplacement service that helps people redirect their careers, and it starts with an exit statement, for how you’ll frame up why you left your last job, and do it in a manner you can quickly get on with the interview and not get bogged down or start crying.

I don’t exactly how I’ll say it, but it’ll go something like this:

I didn’t love it enough to be as good at it as I needed to be.

And there are past friends and bosses who have heard me talk like this who say shut up and get on with it. That’s good advice too, but I still don’t feel good about failing yet, and may never will.

Perhaps it’s distancing ourselves from what we do, and not confusing it too much with who we are. Which is funny, because success works the opposite way — when we succeed it’s a lot easier to identify with — yet requires a lot of F’s along the way.

Categories: death

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15 replies

  1. “I count my failure as a compilation of decisions, or indecisions, that led me somewhere I no longer recognised and didn’t fit” I see what you are saying, but wasn’t it the job that failed you? It’s just management system after all, the outcome of a lot of tinkering by a bunch of people. You are a sentient, considerate, intelligent human. I know which one I’d vote for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Tish for your vote. I’ll confess, I’m working this out publicly so I can make peace with it as I return to the memoir. Takes longer than I thought it would, but feels good to work through it. Grateful for friends and supporters – I’d say ‘like you,’ but here I mean specifically you, so thanks. I don’t think anyone’s called me sentient to my face. God, I love the English! Cheers, enjoy your day. Beginning Reading/Writing in 5 with Lily, now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. great piece, bill. all of science is based on a model of failure, trial and error. what not to do, oops, nope, not that, oh, then, that. i guess is see it as a path towards discovery. i’ve reinvented my life in myriad ways as time has passed and much of it has been done in this way. f is for finding our way.the one that where we are true to ourselves.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Look, I felt the same about my last job and I finally quitted because I could not do it anymore. My frustration built on the fact that my environment did not allow me to as goos as I wanted to be. So, like you I started to like my job less. i think the take out is finding a job that fits you is like finding a life partner. It’s not rocket science, and if it feels great in the beginning, maybe its not meant to last forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a common thing, and like you compare jobs to finding a partner, they are very similar. Except maybe it’s easier leaving a job, but that also depends…and maybe easier for the job to leave you. Merci beaucoup…


  4. I’ve never been good at handling my failure. I’ve tried finding someone to blame for my lack of backbone but I’ve failed at that, too. Have you ever been fired from a job? I have. Twice! It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s like getting mugged. It stays with you.

    My problem in the professional world has always been that I can’t manufacture enthusiasm for something that just isn’t that interesting to me. How incredibly mature. That’s probably why I never did well in school.


    • I’ve been fired twice. Sucks, but the second time it was from a bar and I was friends with everyone there and just started going back, as a paying customer that same week, and it was like no problem0. When they asked me to resign (cryptic, right?) the guy was smiling and I said OK. I think I had three jobs at the time and they were right, I wasn’t a very good waiter. They asked if I could take another table and I said no, I was pretty well full-up with the ones I had, and that was that. Everyone should wait tables, right? Everyone should probably get fired at least once, too. But no more than twice. There’s no recipe for manufacturing enthusiasm, which is why it’s so great. It can’t be faked, except in politics.


  5. I get frustrated talking about failure with others. There’s something I relish about turning rocks over, but people want to be a band-aid. I’m sitting in a summer-long depression accompanied by a mental film of the many failures in my life. But it’s a necessary part of processing for me – the rumination, the emotions, the microscopic examination. The value is always one of resiliency. I always end up in a better place mentally, with things in perspective and with a little more self-knowledge to boot. Breathe the failure in and when you’re ready, breathe it out.


  6. “I didn’t love it enough to be as good at it as I needed to be.”

    You really got me with that one.. I really liked it. I am just a starter blogger/writer but I really like this


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