Failing At Work
At the midpoint of my career, I remember vividly working with two Harvard MBAs. As expected, they had credibility before meeting them. That is the power of branding and name recognition. Both people were very impressive talents and incredibly bright. Yet, both were widely known for being unable to make a decision.
After a few projects, I was still in disbelief that their decision-making abilities were so stalled. Over time, I realized that this was not uncommon. The path to the Ivy League is littered with children attempting to be perfect. At an early age, many potential Ivy Leaguers design their path to get into their dream college—attending organized after-school study sessions, enduring test-prep courses, and for a break, participating in extracurricular activities chosen strategically to look good on a college application.
During this journey, there was no room for failure. The process was too competitive. Make a mistake and lose your chance at your life’s dream. This evolved into paralyzing adolescents in their decision-making. They were overcome with the fear of making a mistake.
Ivy League schools and career progressions closely parallel each other. Reaching our late 30s and early 40s, many of us have achieved a moderate level of success. That success inflates our confidence, ego, and self-worth. It can also become our identity. “Hi, I’m Tommy. I’m a director of sales at Acme Co.”
There is a point in every career, though, when you’ll be forced to take risks to move ahead or be content to stay in place. Early career growth comes easily. You start to build a trajectory, but it is still in safe conditions. Later, you reach the point of having to take risks to move ahead.
Those who do risk eventually fail. No one can take risks and live a life of perfection. Risks are called risks for a reason—sometimes they don’t work out. This can lead to losing job status and, in some cases, your job and subsequent identity.
People take risks every day and fail. If you’re worried about taking a risk, failing, and losing your job, either you’re over-inflating the situation, or you work for a bad employer and need to leave. You may feel societal pressure for perfection. However, nothing great was ever achieved by trying to be perfect.
Greatness, advancement, or whatever you want to call it comes with taking risks and making decisions. If you can’t make hard decisions, you will never advance, nor should you. Anyone can make easy decisions; the hard ones get you paid.
I’ve seen people struggle with picking a restaurant because they may make the wrong choice, which seems like an extreme case of indecision, but it’s more common than you may think. You must build a level of experience with small decisions. It’s like a muscle; your decision-making ability needs exercise.
With growth in decision-making comes increased risk. The stakes get raised. Run case studies with yourself or an impact analysis to fully understand the situation. Then, learn to be okay with making the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.
Failing at work can be a simple mistake or one that gets you fired. These are the risks of being an adult and having a job. Just realize, though, that your job isn’t your identity, nor is it your be all and end all. It’s simply a place where you spend a few days a week, and they give you money.
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