Don’t Quit Until They Fire You

I suffer from a fear of failure and I suspect that I am not alone in this. I see this same mentality from my coworkers and even at home from my children. Fear is a powerful motivator, and when used properly, an important tool for progress. Many fears are rational, useful, and push us to make better decisions to help us to wisely avoid dangerous pitfalls. I am not talking about those kind of fears.

I am instead talking about the fear generated by micro-failures. Micro-failures are small, unimportant, petty, and debilitating when exaggerated. You didn’t receive a congratulatory email from someone you respect when an accomplishment was announced? Micro-failure. Your manager failed to give you the positive feedback you were expecting and seemed lukewarm? Micro-failure.

I am working on controlling my response to these mole-hills when my lizard brain goes into overdrive with unproductive thoughts. I give myself an eighty-percent success rate here as I still have at least one morning weekly in the shower before work where I am staring off into the distance reliving how I could have better handled certain situations, or running through mental simulations of possible future conversations.

I struggled physically and emotionally with energy and positivity for a lot of 2020. Much of this struggle was self-inflicted, but I was also not being set up for success. I kicked off an investigative journey in 2020 to solve my energy problems and to make myself better each day. I discovered early on in my career that I am extremely dependent on feedback. I tend to look for external validation to discover what my guard-rails are and how much room I have to drive change and make an impact. A great article around catalysts and some of their struggles is here. This article really resonated with me, especially around the peaks and valleys resulting in burnout.

I prefer to receive feedback often, in context, in person (or virtually), with specifics and examples. I perform poorly when I receive general feedback that I can’t derive resulting action from, or that I need to investigate. Have you ever received feedback that seemed out of touch or based upon an incorrect assumption or a view into your work that seemed incomplete? I can’t control how people give me feedback or how useful it is, but I do make a point of being upfront with how I best receive feedback and why feedback is essential to my productivity.

In late 2019, I asked my manager what my next steps in career progression were. The feedback I received was that my brand “had problems” with no further details on what those issues were or if I did, in fact, have a path to progress my career within my organization. I left that meeting very upset and at a loss around what to do next. I place a lot of value in how my work is perceived, and to have a general devaluation of that work really hurt me. It took me a few days to wrap my head around this vague, negative feedback. Once I had emotional distance, I set out a plan for the following year.

I identified important points of feedback or stakeholders who would provide relative to my daily work and interactions. Did I have strong connections with them or regular checkpoints to make sure I was receiving feedback firsthand? I then set up 1 on 1s with these important stakeholders at different recurring intervals depending on our level of interaction. I had many of these meetings already in place, but I actively hunted down instances where I needed to build connections.

Narratives matter, and negative narratives around your work and value have space to develop where there is a context vacuum. I identified an area of work where I needed to provide regular updates and to control the narrative via transparent sharing of our work, progress, and planning. I learned that negative narratives are often not malicious, simply someone assuming they know what is going on given a lack of information at hand. Work about work is not as rewarding as creating something new, but it helps others understand the value being provided. I brought my leadership into our prioritization planning, roadmap review, and stakeholder engagements. Many of these program management pieces were already being done; I instead worked to create a cohesive picture of these workstreams in a way that gave our leadership team confidence.

I am lucky enough to have 3 wonderful daughters, and the one trait that I hope they learn from me is to be resilient. Less than ideal outcomes will always happen, that just means I should review, adapt, and then act. Being highly receptive to feedback and applying critical thinking around each scenario will allow me to make the proper corrective action. Each time I fail, I follow Henry Ford’s advice to begin more wisely the next time. Douglas Adams also has some meaningful words around the journeys we take in life.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” — Douglas Adams

My monkey mind struggles with being in the moment. I spend a lot of unproductive time thinking about being productive, and that is time lost from the here and now. An entire work day will go by where I am stuck in meeting after meeting and I feel like I can’t get much work done. I recognize that the things I signal are often things I have issues with and need to improve. When I complain about available time, it means I need to focus instead on time management.

I now look at the following day’s schedule each evening:

  • Are there meetings that can become an email?
  • Can I shorten or focus a meeting to take less time?
  • Can I cancel or move any meetings because they are no longer needed?
  • How best can I block my time to ensure productivity?

I start my next day with a whiteboard that lives in front of my keyboard. I have my top 1–3 objectives for the day tracked there in erasable marker. These tasks may change throughout the day, but I try and start each day fresh and with focus. If I start each day with intent, focus, and positive energy, I trust that I will end each day further ahead. I have also started blocking time for self care which includes writing.

Since I rely on feedback so heavily, I now push my managers and other stakeholders to give me more frequent updates. The “brand” problem I mentioned before was due to a lack of awareness of my work and the value being provided. I also learned a great deal about giving feedback as a manager to my team, as I would not want them to experience the pain I felt around nebulous, bad feedback. My team receives specific input around expectations each week, and I also help them to prioritize frequently.

2021 has a lot of potential, and I look forward to developing more skills, awareness, and capabilities.

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