How to Fail Forward: Blame Doesn’t Work

How to Fail Forward: Blame Doesn’t Work

I recently had an interesting discussion with my partner about disappointment. Now it wasn’t about our work together, but rather, how I felt at the time about my own progress and failures. In the past, it was easy to blame life, circumstance, someone else and their attitude, for relatively any mistake. Identity politics has recently made it feel as though something else is responsible for our lack of success: things like institutional racism, disability bias, or sexism. While I recognize the many barriers minorities of all groups face daily in this country, leaning into that reality makes one feel helpless and like a victim of circumstance.

Let me be frank, in 2016, I became pretty sick, very unexpectedly. It began with an ER visit, a surgery a few hours later, rounds and rounds of medications, and continued with follow-up doctors appointments and necessary surgeries. All of this felt like a huge obstacle to my professional growth, so I left my hospital job and went freelance.

While most of my clients understood my contract limits, and accepted that 50% of my work would be remote, there was one situation where the CEO demanded in-person representation. At the beginning, he insisted part time flexibility was fine. So, I took the job, and one month in, he asked me to end another contract and come on in for more hours with him. He had given me many opportunities already, including an educational business trip and the opportunity to learn a lot, fast, so it seemed like a good trade-off.

This did not go well though; three months in, I was already in an emotional downward spiral. I could not maintain my physical attendance in this office to please him, when my health was suffering from a lack of care I could not attain in a public workplace. Furthermore, since doctors offices and insurance companies also kept the same working hours he was demanding, I was unable to even keep up with follow-up appointments. Eventually I spoke with him and came clean about my medical needs. One month later, I was let go because my needs had made it so I couldn’t work the hours he needed me for. He actually said that.

Now I know it’s illegal to fire someone for disability or illness. Oh believe me, I know. But I recognized, I had gotten comfortable, it seemed like my client understood; I was wrong. Since this was an at-will agreement, there was little to be done. As much as identity politics is about standing up for these injustices so they don’t keep happening to others, I found success to be the best revenge. He has contacted me various times over the months offering me projects, but I’ve kindly declined to work with him.

So while it sounds like I’m ready to set this guy up to take the blame, I see my part in this very clearly: I made a mistake in judgement, multiple times here. First, in accepting the role and to work there. I didn’t ask more questions during the interview, nor did I inquire about his managerial style before signing on. Secondly, despite a large team, I only spoke and met with one person in the entire interview process, who signed off on hiring me, which should have been a warning sign early on.

When I began to feel overwhelmed, I did nothing right either. In fact, I let it affect my performance. I called in sick and worked shorter hours, definitely pushing it in comparison to all other employees who seemed to work ten-hour days. Even though I had my reasons, but those don’t necessarily matter as much as admitting I behaved poorly. By the way, definitely another red flag I missed were those long hours that all other staff members were required to keep, without breaks.

While I approached him with honestly, I see now that I could have shared certain HR regulations with him, instead, while referring back to our initial agreement, instead of ever coming clean about my sickness. I also could have quit a whole lot sooner, instead of ever letting it get this far. Once again, I see my role in this so clearly. I missed so many red flags and warning signs, and I also failed to grasp other opportunities because of it.

Although this was two years ago, I remember my anger. I went to kick boxing that night, and twice a day for two weeks after that. I got my emotion out so effectively, that I was able to focus on what I could do differently next time to guarantee not only a good fit, but a perfect balance for my life.

While I’m definitely past this phase in my life, can report that I am healed, I have noticed high-stress periods at work or in life, lasting longer than one month, will affect me physically. In response, my observation skills have improved greatly, and now I assess situations more intensely, always with the assumption that anything missed could hurt down the road. I take every precaution to listen to my body. My intuition has become a major guiding voice in my daily goals and sometimes my own roadmap. I will actually slow down projects when I think they will be stressful in order to better manage unforeseen issues in development. I will also actively seek peers to brainstorm with and weigh-in on decisions, so I am informed well enough to make the best choices for my team.

I’ve failed a lot. While I used to see that as a bad thing, over the years I’ve come to realize there is no success without failure. As cliché as that sounds, there has never been something truer.

Life is about challenges and growing pains. It’s about getting out there and making mistakes, but it means nothing if you are not actively learning. While it’s totally okay to give into your feelings and spend some time wallowing in self-pity after failure, it’s important to use this to help you pave a new path forward. I’m all for “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again,”

How to Fail Forward: Blame Doesn’t Work

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