Jun 27 2008
Sometimes we make mistakes at work, and they can seem cataclysmic. In reality, some of the mistakes I see are made worse by the attempt to deny or bury the event, rather than take accountability and address the issues uncovered. Even the worst mistakes can produce silver linings (image by Omar Eduardo).
To illustrate my point, here are my five worst mistakes and the lessons learned (in chronological order):
1) When I was 25 I had a boss who wouldn’t let me do anything I wanted. Of course, I knew everything so what was the problem? Geez. Anyway, one day my boss came down on me or pissed me off or something else completely ego deflating, and I flipped out and yelled on her voicemail.
Can you say sepuku? Yeah, it was probation, but rather than fight the good fight, I resigned, knowing my actions were completely inappropriate. Later I made an amends with this boss, and we’ve since done business together.
Lessons learned: 1) My temper always gets the best of me. Do something about it. 2) No matter how comfortable you are with your boss, they are still the boss. Don’t cross the line. 3) Ego… More on the next one.
2) Next job (Oh yeah, don’t quit one job before you have another, doh!), I was promptly put on probation for not saying please and thank you. Great. At this point, I had to acknowledge that my ego was going to kill me wherever I went, so I decided to eat humble pie and stick it out. And I succeeded. I received several increased responsibilities and control of three publications in six months.
Lessons Learned: 1) Being pleasant to work with is half of your job. 2) Ego is the root of almost every bad decision I make. It’s important to always look at my motives and see if fat-head disease is creeping in.
3) At 26 (notice most of these are in my twenties), I got an offer to move to Newport Beach, CA with lots of money and options, and a dot bomb, and a bunch of people who liked talking about the beach instead of real things…
Yeah. I went to get rich, and ended up humbled. A year later I drove back across the country with the computer in the trunk and my clothes on my back. After getting fired during vacation on my cell phone along with the rest of the marketing team three weeks before our options vested. Nice (image by bucaorg).
Lessons Learned: 1) Ego was at play on this one again. I thought I was the man, but in reality too much of my personality was associated with work, and not on a spiritual life and actions, as well as my family. Losing everything to the point that I was sleeping in a friend’s basement off of 12th and Florida for two months taught me a ton. 2) Don’t ever assume you’ll get options until they are vested. 3) Don’t use VC to fund a company. They are f&ck0ng evil.
4) When I was 28, a Red Herring reporter took issue with my client and reported some incorrect facts. It was extremely damaging, and when the reporter refused to take my calls and emailed me an incredibly snide, self-serving justification, I flamed him with a cc to the ENTIRE RED HERRING EDITORIAL STAFF.
The president of my PR Division received a call from said reporter five minutes later. I was told another move like that would cause instant termination. Uh yeah. But Red Herring wrote three nice articles about the client after that :)
Lessons Learned: Temper again. Even justified anger does not warrant severe action. It would have been better to simply call a senior editor and take our case up the ladder.
5) At 32, I had a decent, established job at Widmeyer. I had brought in several nice clients and leads, including the National Scenic Byways Program and the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. But along came opportunity vis a vis a former president in a prior job. This time I was promised partnership, the ability to run my own division in a company…
But then I received three unsolicited phone calls from former direct reports of said president warning me not to take the job. When you have that many people telling you something in an unsolicited way, LISTEN! But I didn’t, and I got royally screwed over. Oh yeah, get on that white horse.
Lessons Learned: 1) Ego. Again. 2) Money and balance. Again. 3) I didn’t need anyone to be successful. I could do it on my own, and when things went bad, I did, and here we are now. The ultimate silver lining.
You can see I made a lot of repeat mistakes, often manifested in different situations. Yes, the same situation will keep presenting itself until the lesson is learned (image by Amish Shah). So the sooner you face the music, the better.
The other thing is that we all have personalities. Personalities include good and bad aspects. My worst aspects still re-occur, though on a lesser level, and I am much quicker to rectify them. My temper is still an occasional ankle biter. Ego can still cause me to engage in situations I shouldn’t.
When you have these defects, you can’t kick yourself too hard. It’s better to laugh, learn and clean it up. Only the many religious conceptions of God are perfect, and no one here is God.
The word human and humility both have the same Latin derivative: hum. Both imply good quality and character. I often associate humility with brutal truth about oneself, a gift really, because humility ultimately allows me to be of good quality and character.