In 2018 I began working in the US branch of an international public affairs and association management consultancy. By 2020, the US office would be closed and operations dissolved.
In November of 2019, knowing my current job would soon be obsolete, I accepted a new role working for a small, family-owned, DC-based organization focused on early education and leisure. Then COVID happened, which put a major strain on the planet, and created a less than ideal environment to take on a new business opportunity.
In June of 2020, after months of stress and fighting for a job that was never quite the right fit, I left…again…two jobs in the span of two years. Some might say I gave up, I “failed.” But through all the disruption and professional failures recently I’ve learned some really valuable lessons. Many of these you’ve heard before, but worth mentioning again in uncertain times when even the most confident and optimistic among us begin to question what lies beyond the bend.
8 Lessons I Learned From Professional Failure
- Stay Decisive
On countless occasions over the past two years I’ve been faced with the dilemma: take the decision and risk being wrong, or take no decision at all and (from my experience) risk looking incompetent. I’d still take the decision. If you’re wrong, course correct. Be accountable and make the requisite changes. But taking no decision and waiting it out will only make you second guess yourself, create doubt in stakeholders, late entrance to the market, and hey, in the end, you still might be wrong.
- Queen Bee. Define Your Role
Some people are worker bees. They want to be behind the scenes grinding. And THANK GOD for them. But me? I work hard, but I want to be doing it in the queen’s court (if not the queen one day). I want a seat at the table. I want to not only be surrounded by decision-makers, but actually beee one. I like the responsibility. I like the stakes. And I’ll own the outcome of my decisions; if necessary, I’ll even right the ship, but you’ve gotta give me a place and the space to run.
- Ask For Help
I don’t pretend for one second I have all the answers. And I’ve been wrong more times than I can count. Sometimes, especially in a pickle, I just don’t know what to do, so I ask for help. I rely on the wisdom of others to guide my decision-making process. Believe it or not, people are more than happy to lend some helpful advice when they know you need it. This has made all the difference.
- Return The Favor
I’ve had great bosses and been surrounded by brilliant professionals. While I may not be in their league just yet, everyone needs to have a guy. Return the favor your boss/mentor/friend did for you, be the “call” for someone else. Give them the help when they need it. Their success repays in you spades.
- Go With Your Gut
Honestly, crisis management feels like it’s 90% preparedness and 10% instinct. Looking back at the past two years, I could have done all the research in the world and not predicted events would unfold as they did. When all else fails, trust your gut and go with your instincts. If you’ve got a good 10% it sure can take you a long way.
- Know Your Value
Every time a job hasn’t quite panned out as planned, I’ve learned a bit more about myself, especially my self-worth. I’m gritty and resourceful. I’m strategic and creative. I’m freaking smart. I’m a boss (or at least I like to think so), and you can’t really be successful until you finally start know your own value. Until you start to bet on yourself.
- Leave On Your Own Terms
Under no circumstances do you want to be the last one turning the lights out. People get nasty as the future starts to look more bleak. Get out before things get toxic. Jump into one of those lifeboats and just row until you find land. Then stay a bit until you figure out your next plan of attack. It’s tough to find a professional landing place when you’re constantly in a state of fight or flight.
- Failure Is Subjective
I look at my track record over the past decade, most definitely past two years, and think “man you’ve moved around.” But what is not written on the page (all that “stuff” filling space between the failures) speaks volumes about what I have to offer. I’ve overcome health challenges, gone back to school, worked unpaid just for the experience. Then I traveled the world while engineering an international marketing and communications function. I led teams and worked on a local, national, and global level with world-class brands in AI, Education, Environment, Entertainment, Travel & Leisure, Food & Beverage, Consumer Goods, and more. I got to write speeches, policy, white papers. And now I’m taking those learnings and pursuing passion projects, leveraging my interests to build my personal brand, all while tackling tough topics to challenge the professional norm. I learned through my failures that the old adage is true: whenever one door closes another one opens…I’d only add that sometimes you have to force it open yourself.