Sometimes you fail at work.
Sometimes, it’s a loud and epic fail—like losing your company millions of dollars or insulting your biggest client or spearheading a product that flops. Those definitely suck, and sometimes cost you your job or your reputation.
But sometimes… and I think more often, the failure is much quieter. Sometimes, you fail to understand the importance of an issue with a co-worker. Sometimes, you fail to communicate a need properly. Sometimes, you fail to listen.
I fail all the time at work. I’ve occasionally had the big loud flopper fails… but most often, I fail in the quiet ones. Lately it seems I’ve had a bunch of those, and just recently one where my failure hit me square in my face as I watched the disappointment in the face of another. These are the failures you feel in your gut.
The thing I’ve noticed about those failures is they usually start with me becoming Very Defensive and Sure of My Rightness. As I get older, I am starting to realize that defensiveness is usually a clue that I’m actually quite wrong. Defensiveness is just my body’s initial fight against the inevitable need to confess that I messed up or that I don’t know or that I need help. And if I can identify that quickly and let my defensiveness go, then I can get to the apologizing and fixing much faster. Usually this plays out in the middle of the night… the 3:00 am restlessness where I have an inner fight in my mind, debating the half of my brain that Firmly Declares that I’ve Done Nothing Wrong with the half of my brain that urges me to Give It Up Already, You Know You Screwed Up.
I know that the hardest part about failing, for me, is the feeling that goes with it—more than the actual failure itself, it’s the feeling of guilt… the feeling of I’m A Horrible Person and Not Deserving of Love!...which is ironic, because when I feel that I’ve been failed by someone else, I usually love them much more if they can just confess to screwing up—confess to being human and flawed. Why is it that we appreciate the humanity in others but try so hard to hide it in ourselves?
I have to go now… I owe a co-worker (or three) an apology.
How can you own up to a quiet failure today?