Failing fast, a lesson

“If you’re going to fail, fail fast,” a friend advised me. I believe she said she’d heard someone give that advice to startup businesses  but it applied to a job I was struggling with.

From the very beginning I questioned whether I was the right person for the job. Once in the job, it wasn’t long before I started failing. I wasn’t fast enough, I lacked the skills the position demanded and I felt as though I was continually hitting my head against a brick wall.

This latest situation reminded me of another job disaster, long ago when I tried stuffing envelopes for a direct mailing company. I have terrible hand-eye coordination and the job involved folding letters and stuffing 500 of them per hour into envelopes, and sealing the envelopes. I lasted three hours.

I had higher hopes for this job because the interview left me with the impression that I would be taught what I didn’t know and that I would adapt fairly easily. I knew my boss needed someone to step in soon but I had no idea he expected me to do work I’d never done before in just days or hours with no allowance for failure.

If this was a learning curve there was  no gradual incline – the hill (mountain?) was steep and the terrain, unforgiving. Nothing I did was ever right. The very skills and strengths others appreciate in me – my writing and editing abilities- were not valued. I received no praise or encouragement from my boss for what I did right. Many of my questions went unanswered and I never received the training I was promised during the interview.  I couldn’t believe the mistrust on my boss’s part. It was disheartening to be doubted so much.

I was getting ready to leave. I would have preferred to have been in the driver’s seat, to have left the job before being let go.

One of the most painful aspects of the job was working across a room from a boss who was obviously disappointed in me and didn’t seem to like me very much.

I loved the old factory building where the office is located. Built in 1899, it has high ceilings, wooden staircases and huge windows that allow natural light to stream in. Many artists, photographers and graphic designers are based there. It was definitely the blessing in an unhappy experience.

Failing in a job teaches you you’re not a good fit for that job. For me the test now is to move on quickly. It usually takes me a while to lick my wounds and go forward. But maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I need to welcome failure into my life more often.

I must be on the right track. The advice Doug Hall gives in a Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine article  is eerily familiar:

The only barrier to failing fast and failing cheap is your ego. You must be willing to fail, fail, and fail again if you are going to win in today’s competitive marketplace. Remember, even if you’re falling flat on your face, at least you’re still moving forward. 


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