This has been one of “those” months that I’ll be quite happy to end in a few days. I’ve had a slew of proposals that I thought were airtight rejected, and various other personal and work related projects have gotten stuck or ended in a less-than-optimal fashion. It’s the kind of experience that generates those nagging thoughts ranging from “if only I had tweaked this item” to “Am I headed for complete failure?”
These types of experiences are exceptionally common judging by the piles of motivational posters, self-help books, and cheeky (and often conflicting) sayings that dribble off the tongues of those looking to cheer us up. What I find interesting is that most of these scars are self inflicted, and that a life absent of failure can only mean two things: you’re the most exceptional person in all of human history, or you’re simply not pushing your personal or professional boundaries.
Unlike brain surgery or war, thankfully for most of us in the IT field, the most dramatic personal damage resulting from failure is a bruised ego. The most successful and capable people I’ve encountered in my life generally have the most resilient egos. They fail often-reflecting for a few moments to determine what they’ll do differently next time, and then immediately forgetting the failure.
On the other hand are the people who have become paralyzed by failure. While it’s easy to imagine these people peering out from behind a drawn curtain in a darkened house, this manifests itself in a far more insidious manner. We’ve all met someone with business ideas or plans for a new initiative at work who are constantly “perfecting” the idea before they introduce it to the wider world. While they might seem to be striving for excellence, subconsciously many of them let the potential for failure paralyze them into inaction, even if that inaction superficially generates a great deal of sound and fury. Left unchecked, the ego can sideline someone based on past failures without their realization.
So how does one overcome this most dangerous effect of the ego? By realizing that the ego is one of the most easily healed parts of the human psyche, as all is vagaries are self-made. Like most good advice this is conceptually simple, but can take months of Zen-like mental exercise to implement successfully, with different techniques working for different people. Whether you employ positive self-talk, a formal post-rejection analysis, or go for a long, hard run after failing, determine what you can learn from the failure and move on in whatever manner works best for you.
Learning to salve a bruised ego might result in a differently nuanced approach in the future and an ability to dust oneself off and try again, rapidly evolving toward success. Letting a damaged ego fester, however, can drive your existence and rob you of life itself, leaving you licking your wounds and constantly wondering what could have been.