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.