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Epic Fail?  What’s an epic fail?

Oh come on – you know what I’m talking about – a fail so big that there was just nothing you could do about it.  A fail so big all you could do was cry “Uncle” and move on.  Wanna hear mine?

About six years ago I was hired by a well-known and respected financial advisor whose company was named one of the 100 best places to work several years in a row.  Good pay, professional atmosphere, yada yada yada.  Two weeks into the job, I knew I had made a mistake.  The place was not a fit for me at all, coming from a previous job where I had lots of freedom, the ability to wear playclothes and seniority.  But I stuck it out, trying my best but oh my God, failing miserably.  I had no friends there and each day at lunch I sat outside by the pond, hanging out with (and occasionally talking to) the ducks.  I was lonely and feeling inept. Not a good combo for anyone, right?

I fell behind in my work because I refused to ask for help with what I didn’t know. The business was much different than what I was used to but I came in as a senior person so I felt I should know all this stuff. As luck (and the Universe) would have it, somewhere in month 2, I got really sick.  Like three-days-in-a-row-out-of-work sick.  And when someone stepped in to help in my absence, I was found out – my days of covering up my mistakes were over.  When I returned, I was put on probation for a month and spent that time figuring out a way to leave.  I managed to wangle back into my old company and left at the end of the probation period without telling anyone but my direct supervisor.  It was the only job in my life where I’ve done that.  But I was so embarassed that I had royally messed this up I couldn’t face people.

So why is this epic fail my best friend? Because it taught me a few things:

1.  Speak up – if you don’t know what you’re doing, SAY SO.  Don’t dig yourself into another ditch by being too proud to say anything. This one was huge for me.  There are times in every job where you aren’t sure what you’re doing.  When I hear that little voice say “Remember that ditch you dug for yourself several years ago?” I know it’s time to speak up and ask for help.

2.  Don’t be blinded by prestige or labels. Even though that company was ranked as one of the 100 best places to work, it wasn’t the best place for me.  I did get another opportunity to test this lesson out later on when I got a cushy job offer from another advisor. Even though I had no logical reason not to take the job, I just felt it wasn’t going to be right and I’d be replaying that movie I had already seen once. So, I said “No thank you.” Lesson learned.

3.  Know which situations allow you to shine. For me, a highly structured environment with lots of rules isn’t a place that makes me happy.  The more the rules were hammered into us at the other company, the more I felt squished in a box. I do much better when given breathing room to do my thing.  I made sure that any future companies for whom I worked offered this bit of space.  Highly structured is not my friend.  And I learned that for good thanks to my stint at that company.

Don’t be embarassed by your failures! Use them as a tool to tweak what you’re doing and try again.  Feedback.  That’s all failure is. If you look at it that way and learn what you need to, you’ll be much further along in your path.  I promise.

What lessons have you learned from your most epic fail? How are you able to put them into action in your life now?  I’d love to hear about it!