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Today’s Slogan Is: “We Thrive On Failure”

Photo by the author.

Shamefacedly I confessed to the dentist that my latest cracked tooth was caused by biting down on candied almonds. It appears I have not learned anything from the past as the last time I cracked a tooth it was for the exact same reason.

This prompted me to think about all my failures going into the new job. Of course you’re not supposed to be thinking of yourself as a failure, but of course you also do, because if things had been picture perfect at the last job why would you have left?

The truth is that all growth necessarily involves failure. This is what they do not teach you in school, because in school you cannot fail if you are to advance from one grade to another.

Of course, this is also why most schooling is stupid. Your job should not be to convince a teacher that you know your stuff. Your job should be to actually do things, to master skills sufficiently that it is a waste of your time to remain where you are. In the course of that activity, it is not only expected that you will fail, repeatedly, but actually required that you do so.

This is the difficult work of learning, and it is deeply individual. If schools would be organized around mastery of skill and not passing of tests, it would be impossible for students to cheat; first of all impractical, but secondly what would be the point? You cannot cheat your way through life, after all.

Well on second thought, I suppose you can.

Public domain photo of former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried via Wikipedia.

In any case, there is something very wrong with how our entire career system is set up. In a professional bio, you’re supposed to say that you went from achievement to achievement, and show how the current position builds on the previous one. But professional bios aren’t very interesting, usually, and that’s because such a narrative is totally fake.

A more interesting bio is a truthful one, one which tells a story that sounds like a human being embarking on a journey of life, trying different things, and basically flailing around until they “hit the nail on the head,” and then it’s not a learning activity anymore or someone gets in the way, and so they move on to do something else.

Part of failing around in life (which, again, is what honest people do) is talking about the journey, or writing about it. When you keep an experience inside the result is a kind of mush in your head that does not actually turn into anything. Whether it’s good or bad, there is something to be said for bringing it forward, analyzing it, and turning it over into a logical product that helps you to make sense of things.

In my case, one output has always been to write down my experiences and see what can be learned from them, which is how I plan to use my blog for awhile. The start of a new job really brings out what you’ve learned about “how to do work,” and one thing I learned from my previous job was the absolute importance of giving every project a number, tracking status in writing daily, and establishing a clear-cut routine that is written down — a “playbook” for you to manage yourself.

Another output last night, as it turned out, was for me to get motivated to write down not just my failures but also my successes.

As it turned out, these are very personal achievements, not necessarily things you would put on LinkedIn. (Did I mention that I, like so many, was censored off LinkedIn in the same way I was banned on Twitter? I would love to see the “The LinkedIn Files” released after “The Twitter Files.”)

Rather, these situations are the stuff of life, things I faced and overcame, with God’s help.

The unique thing about this particular writing exercise was that I first wrote down all the areas where I was beating myself up in my head, feeling down. Just literally, topic, topic, topic, topic.

And then, on a new line, with a new header, I wrote “Successes,” and listed all the things that came to mind. As it turned out the list was longer than the failures, and it felt all the more real for being private.

The truth is that the more times you start a new job, the more times you learn that your locus of control lies within and not without. You know what it takes to fit in and do well, and you can actually document in real time whether you are doing those things. Very little outside input is required for a course correction.

The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line, and wouldn’t it be great if we could just set ourselves up for a predictably successful life with minimal stress and pain. Sure. As my former boss quoted to me:

“God likes to go off-road.”

Tony Snow

But reality is usually about turning lemons into lemonade.

Photo via Pexels by EVG Kowalievska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/lime-cocktail-drink-with-two-straws-1187766/

A really good podcast along these lines is called “Now What? with Brooke Shields.” It is basically all about the subject of this post: life as a series of failures from which you recover and hopefully thrive.

When I look back on my professional life, and I’ve been working on some level since I was 14 years old, what strikes me the most is a significant change that happened when I left this last job. My part of the work for this organization at a certain point in time was done: There was nothing left to innovate, nothing left to make more efficient.

For the first time in my life, I had nothing left to fail at.

The researcher in me now turns to this new phase in my career. As a midlife professional, how do I start over again?

I’m taking the advice of a former colleague, who told me very helpfully: “Write everything down. Imagine that you’re an anthropologist.”

One thing in life is for certain.

If you constantly walk around trying to prove that you are a success, you may fool some people, I guess, but you’re missing out on the richness of what could be.

Try just experiencing life—try giving yourself permission to experience it—stop demanding of yourself that you get an “A” on the test.

Remember: Most of your teachers were not exactly Einstein.

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921 by Ferdinand Schmutzer via Wikipedia. Public domain.

By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.

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