Daily Archives: May 5, 2011

Failing Forward


Quitting your job is a funny thing.  Almost everyone will tell you it’s the most freeing feeling in the world – like after you do it you’re so light you could float away, so powerful you’re on top of the world,  so manic you could run up Broadway screaming and kissing strangers.

But for me, typical me with my beautiful suburban baggage and ever-present perfectionist streak, I felt a twinge of something bitter with my sweet.  Not concern about the financial difficulty of not having an income, the professional implications of leaving a job after two months, or the sorrow of leaving a great group of people in my same situation (though those do all exist from time to time), but it was primarily something else.  It was, and is, the feeling of failure.  It’s not really rational, but in my waspy-whitebred way I can’t help feeling like I messed something up.  Like I wasn’t tough enough, or like I was too tough.  Like I wasn’t disciplined enough to take it, like I was to weird to make it, like I told everybody I had these big plans for New York and Japan and now I’m back in the Hills in my pajamas in my parents living room.  Failure to Launch.   whoops.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  On the deepest level I know I did the right thing, and it does feel good.  When I left I let go, and the release of that tension made me physically sick for a day or two after until I’d flushed those toxins from my body, but now my body feels very healthy.

When I came home it was Thursday of a holiday weekend, meaning I spent a lot of time in church, and that’s where I figured the primary inquisition would be.  Most of my closest friends here had gotten “the text”, and my extended family in the area had heard through the grapevine, and yes I did actually telephone my parents and my sister (my sister just about died of something between shock and hysterical laughter).  But my church family, many of them whom I’ve known for my entire life and have been like second (and third, forth, fifth, etc.) parents to me.  I figured telling them would be the hardest part.  Trying to explain to a multitude of people that I no longer had the job they’d all congratulated me for, and that I still did want a new life in a new city – just not that one.  How could I explain that I, one of their darling children who always dresses so nicely and speaks so well, was in fact too enigmatic and unconventional for this “dream” job.

But they were responsive.  People were glad I wasn’t going to Japan, and there were a lot of hugs.  But I was most struck by one reaction from a particular gentleman in the congregation.  A conservative and fairly distinguished retiree of the autos, and old Ford financial guy, a businessman through and through, always thinking of the practical concerns of the church and of the universe – how are we going to pay for this, what makes the most logical sense?  I gave him the speech about not wanting to get to Japan (they were sending people in a couple weeks but may parents had cancer, radiation, blah blah blah) and feeling like I the company and I were not the right fit for one and other, and he nodded, excusing himself to hand out necessary bulletins to other parishioners.   Figuring I’d dodged the bullet, I straightened my petal-pink skirt and sat down, preparing to share the story again.  But as we were walking through the parking lot he stopped me – thrilled that he’d found me – and relayed a message (that he’d also directed to me through my mother I would learn later).  He thought it was fantastic that I’d done what I did.  I’ve seen it too many times with too many young people, he said.  They hate what they’re doing and they just put their head down and do it, and they’re never happy.  You’re too young for that, you’re too young to not be happy.  I thanked him, and we on our separate ways.

It makes me think, ironically, of something our CFO said to us in a meeting with our training team the week I left.  He was talking about something, a lot of things, and I was listening politely.  Then he used a phrase that ended up being the one things from that meeting that really stuck with me.  He said he wanted people to Fail Forward.  I guess he must have meant something about learning from the experience of ordering too many chinos or something, but that wasn’t what I heard.  The idea was that even when you fail, you should learn from what is happening and be making progress while you’re failing.

That’s how I feel about this whole experience.  I can’t shake the feeling of failure, but I’m counting it as a forward fail.  A failure in which I remembered how much I loved a city I’d practically forgotten, and I learned that I was happy living there.  I learned where I wanted to live (Brooklyn you stole my heart!), and where I’d like to live in the future with a little more money coming in (still Brooklyn, just closer to the park!).  I learned what I didn’t want in a job and a corporate culture, and I leaned what I really do want and need.  Somehow, I have more sense of self now, unemployed and in my pajamas in my parents living room, that I ever have before.  That, and I lived for two months, and lived pretty damn well, in one one of the most incredible cities on earth.  I got the tourist bug out, enjoyed brewery tours and speak-easys, ate incredible food with equal company, sat on my porch looking at the skyline, and somehow came back with a little more in the bank then I’d left with.

If everyone gets to make one big mistake, I’d say I made a pretty great one.

“People fail forward to success.” – Mary Kay Ash