Some things endure in life.


At school I ran every day to and from, even with a cello in hand…

…this morning I ran to the train station, as usual.

I am forgetful about little things, always have been…

…this morning I trudged back home from the train station, collected my forgotten swipe card, and ran back.

Some things endure in life…

…some things change.

When walking back from the station this morning, something funny happened. It was like walking back in time. I thought about how on a Monday morning 7 years ago would I have conceived I would be in this place, this headspace, right now? I would have been confident I would be still running to the train station, and being forgetful. However, I would have carried a big hope about other things becoming better. Then, into my mind, sprang a memory from years ago.

Remembering triggered a physical reaction. Electrical impulses went washing up and down the backs of my legs as I recalled the feelings of betrayal this incident induced. The same impulses I have always felt when faced with emotional stress. Accordingly other such memories went flashing through my mind: the acute embarrassment of soiling my pants in class in primary school; the devastating heartbreak of being dumped by my first girlfriend; the outright performance pressure I felt when I ran a bank branch on my own – at 20 years old – for several days after an armed hold-up.  Moments anchored by a common feeling.

Then I noticed something. I hadn’t felt those feelings too much lately. Looking back, something I try not to do too much, had established a benchmark of progress. I’ve worked really hard on building resilience as a skill, and it seems to be paying off.

Some things change in life.

Several months ago I wrote about failing and using that emotional energy. Well, since then I have failed again, epically! This time the mistake was allowing some communications out too early about a program I manage that wasn’t fully ready to launch yet. A different kind of failure in that it actually did have a widespread impact, creating confusion and extra work for dozens of people. Mistakes happen. How I handled it says something.

Firstly, I did a rational root cause analysis. The decision was an error of judgement. Why? When I made the decision I was working on many things at a very fast pace. Why? A combination of extra workload from some conferences scheduled that week, and workshops I had to run too. Why? Out of my control: The conferences ran, everyone had to go to them, end of story. In my control: My ability as program manager to schedule enough time in each week to do my work properly. Just knowing the causes and having an informed ability to do something right then was a powerful resilience builder.

Secondly, I acknowledged. When I first got the feedback on the error, I was lucky in that it came from someone I had barely dealt with before and who had the temperament to tell me straight. It is in those moments that long-term reputation is built or degraded.   I chose to acknowledge my error rather than fudge it, duck it or buck-pass it. The demon – sitting on my shoulder whispering appealing things in my ear – lost.

Thirdly, I apologised. When I walked past a manager in the team of people I had affected, I stopped, acknowledged again and then apologised. She was cool about it.

Fourthly, I did something more to rectify the situation. Not just working harder, but working in the way you knew you really needed to all along. Even just 1% smarter, more empathetically, more communicatively. Making the mistake opened up a better understanding of the world of people I was meant to be helping. The usual barriers that occur after making a mistake – like shrinking away into a hole for a while – weren’t there. Failure is human. Human things connect people.

And then there was home-life. The evening of the mistake being made known to me, I went home. It was my turn to cook dinner; instead I said “Let’s go out.” On a Monday night! We spent lots of money. I chatted to my wife about the mistake; not to transfer the burden, but in an analytical way. About how writing a blog post about the nature of failure several months ago had helped me grow in dealing with failure. About how I had sought to be challenged by a new role this year where I didn’t know how to do more than half the job. It was re-affirming for both of us. We were celebrating my failure.

All through the past week, I didn’t feel those electrical impulses at the back of my legs about this failure at work. From echoes of past episodes, sure, I still feel it, and probably always will. They are part of me, the baseline of my resilience growth story. Such moments will happen again. I know I’ll be strong when they do.

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