It happened. You finally landed that next large project, the one that you think will defend all of your decisions leading up to this point. The big one that will redeem all of that hard work during the years leading up to it.
But the fact is that there is no one project that will do that. No one project will ever do that because that’s not how life works. All these projects really are is a way to gain more experience and learn from them.
Unfortunately and despite the actually reality of the situation, there are many people out there that still believe that one large project will make or break their career. And this causes lots of distress and lots of negative self-talk. This is especially true for people working in a start-up and in enterprise business.
What follows are sayings (that negative self-talk) that I have heard from many people in my life. I’m going to write about each and give you ways to help better yourself and give you the confidence you need to succeed. While I am no expert, I hope that this can help at least a few people realize that failure is part of life and one project will not make or break you.
If I fail, I’m going to be fired.
I see this a lot especially with new people (Interns, Jrs, and fresh engineers). That being said, I have also seen this with Seniors, but I’ll cover that case as well later.
If you’re fresh to the tech world, and you feel that this statement is true where you are, you need to create a workplace that allows you to fail. You need a space that gives you people to learn from and someone to lean on when (yes not “if” but “when”) you do fail.
But you’re new, so of course, you’re afraid to do a lot of things; you need someone to ask, “Hey, I’m going to do X. Is that ok?” This is very important for all teams to have great communication. Be it quick, useful meetings, chat rooms, emails, or all of the above, you need to find a place that everyone talks to each other and helps each other through potential failures.
If your company is not supportive like this, you need to move on. Nobody needs that negativity in their life. You should never be afraid to fail and your workplace should reflect an attitude of failure is how people learn.
If something fails then clearly someone is to blame
Tim broke X or Todd did Y. in reality, rarely are Tim and Todd the issue here. The process is. 99 times out of a 100 something failed because the process wasn’t well defined or was incorrect.
Every place you go should have run books or SOPs or some sort of documentation on how a process should be done. If that process is followed and something fails, it is the process that didn’t work, and it needs to be updated.
What about the new process or undocumented items you might ask? Then it’s time to build a process and implement it. Before implementing it though, you have to make sure to thoroughly test it and make sure it works. This way others will have one for next time. And then you document it so clearly that anyone could follow it.
The worst case scenario of this is when only 1 person knows the process. A process that is in some guy’s head is not a process, that’s a failure point. When Tim needs help with X, but Jenny is on vacation, and you can’t fix X, that’s a problem and it’s nobody’s fault but the company for not having standard written processes. Get all processes on paper to prevent failure like this and remember it’s not your fault if your company hasn’t written processes down.
If you fail, you’re weak and not good enough.
Imposter syndrome is genuine. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the field or have been doing this for years. You get this feeling that you are somehow inferior because you failed.
How do you bust that feeling? Well, everyone has something that helps, but surrounding yourself with a network of people to build you up and remind you that failure just means you are learning is very important. If you don’t have that network of people, you feel like you’re lost at sea with no land around you. You need to build that support structure.
Denial of Mistake Making
The biggest problem with people and companies is is denying when you have made a mistake, or a project didn’t go as planned. I’ve seen many a ship sink on this iceberg.
This is a hard thing to teach people because most people (especially Americans) have been programmed to think that failure is never an option and that failure will lead to my first point (being fired).
However, you need to fail to learn so that your project can go on. No project ever works the first time. I mean think of the greatest scientific achievements in history: all of them came about through trial and error.
That being said, fear of failure is so engrained into our society that it is very hard to break people of that mindset. There is no cookbook that helps people understand this. It takes working in a positive work environment to reassure you that failing is just part of the process. It’s with that reassurance that you can build up your confidence.
So Who is Causing These Issues and Feelings to Occur?
So for the most part people’s outlook of the workplace is influenced by what is around them. So, besides societal pressure to never fail, who is perpetuating this false claim that failure is the worst thing ever and that you will be fired and branded a loser if you fail?
Toxic people: They have one goal, suck your life away. They don’t care about you and will only bring you misery. They only care about themselves.
How to ID these kinds of people?
- You’re emotionally affected by their drama.
- You dread (or fear) being around them.
- You’re exhausted, or you feel angry while you’re with them or after your interaction.
- You feel bad or ashamed about yourself.
- You’re stuck in a cycle of trying to rescue, fix, or care for them.
The sooner you remove them from your life, the sooner you can work on building up your confidence again.
If you see these run, don’t look back, and move on. Always remember that you can leave at any time, you don’t owe any company anything.
How to ID these kinds of places?
- You’re told to feel, “lucky you have a job.”…
- Poor communication. …
- Everyone has a bad attitude. …
- There’s always office drama. …
- Dysfunction reigns. …
- You have a tyrannical boss. …
- You feel in your gut that something is off.
The power of “no” is amazing, and you shouldn’t be afraid to use it. You have a choice, and you know better than all that your priorities are.
Just like toxic people, these are the people who will help drive your future in your career.
- Oppositional behavior
- Makes you feel terrible for over simple mistakes
- Plays power politics
- Doesn’t tech or let you learn
- Abuse of the disciplinary system
- bullying, gaslighting, sexists
- course causes workplace division
What should your leadership actually be doing?
- Seeing a potential vision on your future, asking what you want your future to be, and helping to shape it to meet both of your needs.
- Giving you an ability to drive your own projects you thought of.
- Supports you when you need it
- Being there for you when you need someone to talk to or toss ideas off of.
- You can tell them no and have a talk about why you said no.
What Can You Do Right Now
We’ve talked about what failure types and people who are not supportive and ways to identify them. But what can you do to build your empire and get that reinforcement if it’s not in the workplace and find a place where it is?
Building a network. : Go out and meet others in your field and talk shop. You will figure out you’re not alone and that others might have similar issues.
Go to fun events: Go to events that look like fun to meet others and build upon that network. Even if that’s something you never done before. Build your community or join one with positive people.
Start doing fun in field projects: If you really like the work you are doing, start practicing outside of work! To be good at something, it needs to be close to second nature. Start doing in-field projects outside of work or if your work has a “playpen” where you can build and make things use it. Check the areas for a local makerspace, too, as these are great places to find others with your passions.
Work and people can be a chore in and of itself. It can trigger anxiety, stress, and feeling of dread some (if not most) days. You need your time to decompress. Maybe that is time with your significant other, playing at a makerspace, out with friends, building a car, writing, drawing, video games; whatever it might be, think about yourself and what you like to do. Whatever your life stress is, think about yourself. Your health is worth more than ending up in the ER because of a panic attack (True Story).
Why am I talking about all this? Why does this even need to be informed about? People think “failure is a sin” is normal, and it’s not. If you’re reading this is going, “Wow, I see this at work” or “wow, this is happening to me now” it’s because this happens daily to a lot of people. It’s not until you identify what happening that you can work on the way to resolve it. Unfortunately, some companies and people are so set in their ways that it can feel like moving a Stubborn mule to get any real change to happen. They’re not going to change, and these kinds of people don’t want too. You have a choice and a voice to do what you want to.
Don’t let others think they can control you.