You Call This a Career?

By Curmudgeon


This coming fall I celebrate (if that is the right word) 30 years as an adult professional (for an idea of what that means, watch this). In that time I have held eleven jobs, and have been unemployed a total of seven weeks (one of which was intentional).  Of those eleven jobs, I’ve failed at two of them, was no better than mediocre at two, and was good to damned good at seven.  For the last eighteen of those years, I’ve had my own LLC and side business that has brought in anywhere from a few thousand a year to the high five figures.

Is this a typical career today? I have no idea.  But I would like to do several postings for Steve over the coming weeks of some things I’ve learned in the process.

Today I’d like to focus on failure. When I say that I’ve failed at two jobs, I mean that I’ve gotten criticized, demoted, fired, and in one extreme case, sued.

What did I learn from these failures? First, I learned that I can’t predict them.  If I am going to change jobs and go into a new company, even if it’s in a similar role to what I’ve done before, I will always run the risk of failure.  Hopefully it is a small risk, but there are many unknowns.

Is it me or what? That is the seminal question.  Well, certainly it was in some part my doing.  I lacked engagement at the two jobs at which I failed.

Could I have been engaged? That had to be my failure, right?  If I’m getting paid six figures (in one of the cases), my employer has the right to expect immediate engagement and productivity.  Well, I think in both cases there was an institutional aspect that contributed to my failures.

Fundamentally, in both I lacked an awareness of the culture of the organization. For different reasons, both were cultures with which I couldn’t adapt to.  In the first, it was a culture of surprise and attack.  In the second, it was a culture of blame.  I lacked the skills to respond effectively.

I can’t criticize either, and perhaps I am being harsh in my assessment, but it is certainly true that they were organizational cultures that I lacked the ability to adapt and respond to.  Should you wish to avert such a failure, you need to be perceptive to the culture of your company, and whether your own personality is compatible with the way that your employer works.  If not, flee while you can.

I do know that failure can be averted, but you need inside help. In my current job (at which I am damned good), my boss asked me to support the firing of a colleague.  I refused, and instead delivered a strong defense of her work.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, that defense not only saved her job, but also changed the way our senior management perceived her efforts and results.

The moral of that story is to know the people that you work with, their strengths and weaknesses, and more important, what they contribute to your goals. And know what is in their hearts, if you can.  If they can make a difference, go to bat for them.  And maybe hope that in the future someone does so for you.

But in the course of 30 years, make no mistake – you will fail. It’s not a badge of honor, but nor is it a scarlet letter.  If you are reaching, and trying new opportunities, failure is a certainty.  You need to let some time pass, and soberly assess and learn from the lessons.  But more immediately, you need to move on.

Photo by kevindooley

7 Replies to “You Call This a Career?”

  1. Excellent thoughts and observations. I am eagerly anticipating hearing more about your experiences and how you have learned from them. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur did a round up on failure. It can be found here

    What we commonly refer to as failure is simply a learning experience. You learned that some cultures are not suitable for your skills and talents.

    I have learned that a company can go bankrupt regardless of the quality of your work. I have also learned that we cannot be victims of the world but master of it by accepting our responsibility for ourselves and go on with life.

    Excellent overview of 30 years. I am not far behind you 🙂

  3. Sounds a lot like my career! I think you always run the risk of getting into a bad situation; the questions that you get to ask the job interviewer only take you so far. I've worked for companies where the culture clashed with my values and ideas. If you try to fit in, is it really doing you any good in the long run? Your best bet is to move on, which is what I did.

  4. Having a coach or mentor can also help greatly in avoiding failure or being able to recognize higher risk situations. Mark Joyner is getting ready to offer a business coaching program. If you want to know more I wrote a brief post explaining who he is and some of the things he has done.

    You can also enter to win a copy of his latest book called Integration Marketing.

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