This is the story of how my epic failure taught me who I was, how to live, and how to love myself again. Surprise! It’s about work.
I spent years and years in my training; and just now, finally, I feel like I’m living my best life. I can breathe free and be myself. I don’t dread Sundays, because they are followed by Mondays. I don’t fear my weaknesses, anymore. But I can remember all the time I spent – so many years of my life- loyal and dedicated to my job and to my company, but still unsure of myself, unsure of my worth, unsure of my direction, unaware of the true power I held – I was basically ignorant in all regards. I remember feeling undervalued, insecure, anxious and afraid. Afraid I wasn’t enough. Anxious that someone would finally realize it.
Sometimes, I had visions. Each time I had a new assignment, I was afraid that they would discover my same imperfections, that my limitations would get the better of me, and that each new opportunity would suffer at the hands of doing new things in the same old ways. Everyday, I hoped that wouldn’t happen. But, alas, my worries came to fruition before my very eyes, and I was never so sad to prove myself right. I gave them my all, but it wasn’t enough. I ran as hard as I could, as fast as I could; and it wasn’t enough to make it across the finish line. I crashed. I crumbled. I was crucified for a contract, and I went down in a glorious blaze. I felt my career, my efforts for thirteen years, all my blood, sweat and tears, turn to ash, consumed by the flames of epic failure. All the years I spent climbing the corporate ranks, establishing myself as a professional, and now, I was ruined.
So, let me tell you what I learned from all of that.
Lose the Fear
Firstly, I learned how much time we spend afraid of a certain outcome, and how much it holds us back. Trying to control outcomes takes up so much energy that we can’t devote it to the cause, and that helps no one. This is how we limit ourselves. If we are insecure in who we are, our abilities, and how others perceive us; we will try to control those perceptions, and spend so much valuable time doing it. This not only points to an insecure relationship with our work, but worse yet, with ourselves. When you have to bet your whole self up against a bigger challenge, there is no room for fear and insecurity. You have to give it everything you have, and hope it’s enough. And if it’s not, at least you lose the fear, and you gain knowledge. If fear is the layers of the onion we have built around everything we do, consider failure the knife.
Know Your Worth
I learned that I was better than they let me think. I learned that whether they know how valuable you are, or not, they are not likely to let you know it. Because that’s how they get to keep you, small, ignorant, and afraid. If you don’t know how much you’re worth, then they don’t have to give it to you. Even if you saved their butts year after year. Even if you made it all happen behind the scenes. Even if it cost you your nights and your weekends. Even if it cost you your youth and the best years of your life. Even if you were the glue that held the shit-show together. Do the research, do salary comparisons. No, it’s not couth to talk about how much you make. But you have to know how much you are worth. Because if you don’t leverage it, someone else will. It might as well be you.
Bet on You
I learned that no one remembers a worker bee. No one gets an award for plugging away, year after year, doing just what you’re told. There is no glory in martyrdom. You know what gets remembered? Taking chances. Game changers. You get remembered for revolutions. For grand productions. For making the miracles. You get remembered for making big changes in small ways. For doing those things that only you can do. You get to put on your resume, I administrated hundreds of elections. I supported a dozen presidents and I satisfied a dozen of the pickiest, bean-counting treasurers. I audited the audits. I decided the words that became our language. I maintained the integrity of the system. I wrote the words that became policy. Because all the people you were kind to, won’t be at your funeral, figuratively speaking. All the years you spent, plugging away, being a cog in someone else’s wheel, while you were doing exactly what you were meant to do, didn’t change anything. But, the change that you make, the difference they could feel, and the people that you grew and inspired along the way, the things you taught them, and how they carry out your teachings, that’s your legacy. What matters is you carried the ball a few more yards. You left them better than you found them.
They didn’t deserve me. Everything they did told me they didn’t appreciate me. I thought there was more to the story. I thought one day, it would pay off. You know what – sometimes, a thing is exactly what it seems to be. I learned. Oh boy, did I learn. It cost me years. It cost me stress on my body. It cost me trouble in my marriage. It cost me my sanity. But I came out with a knowledge you can’t buy, read, or pick up at a keynote speech. I learned everything I was capable of, by failing miserably, and by being in the wrong place at the right time. I was exactly who I was, I wore their colors. I believed in their mission. They didn’t train a soldier. I already was a soldier. All they did was facilitate the war. And I was loyal, to the end. But I was human. Maybe that’s what was so hard for me to accept, I was only human.
They’re not wrong when they say that failure teaches. Geez, could it have been easier? Maybe. But I go hard, and so my lesson had to be a big one. I eventually came out on the other side, fearless, with a ton of experience, and with this newfound knowledge of myself. I knew exactly my limits, and that is knowledge, too. When everything goes wrong, and when you feel like you have lost it all; there really is nothing left to be afraid of. There’s a sort of confidence you can gain from that. I believe that we have to be broken down from time to time, to be rebuilt even stronger than before. But we have to take the loss, and let it teach us. Experience teaches; and good or bad, it’s all experience.
So now, I get to carry that knowledge, that failure on such an epic level. I know everything I did wrong, and I let it guide me now. I know what not to do. And the first thing I am not going to do, is undervalue myself. The second, I will no longer give away my power. I am a monster at what I do. I just had to die first, so I could rise from the ashes with a knowledge that cost me everything, and that’s what makes it so valuable.