I am a failure.
It’s time to come clean and admit that I have frequently (and at times remarkably) fallen short of what’s expected of me. Whether we choose to admit it or not, everybody fails. Einstein was written off as a dullard by his teachers. Abraham Lincoln failed at business, went bankrupt twice and was defeated in numerous campaigns for public office. Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.” JK Rowling was divorced, broke, depressed and on welfare. The list goes on and on. (You can read about more of these “failures” here.)
While I am certainly not trying to compare myself to these great men and women, the point is valid – no matter how successful one is perceived to be, the road taken to get there is often a bit bumpy. However, these bumps are often what jolt us forward and propel us to new discoveries.
Hall of Flame Outs
Speaking of my flops, they are many and some of them are quite spectacular! They span all facets of my life – family, friendship, parenting, school, and career – a venerable cornucopia of catastrophe. As this is a business-centric blog, I thought I’d withhold the personal drama and share some of the finer, “teachable” moments from my storied academic and professional history:
- During my freshman year in college, I reveled in the fact that attendance to my classes was optional. My eagerness to exert this new found freedom of choice was rewarded with a fall sophomore semester on academic probation.
Lesson Learned: With great freedom, comes great responsibility.
- I shook off my checkered academic past and landed a fine position with an internal audit group in a Chicago-based bank. After 2 ½ years of good performance and regular promotions, I abruptly left my cushy setup in downtown Chicago to join a technology consulting company out in the nether reaches of the suburbs (which increased my daily commute time by 1 ½ hours) and started consulting on operating systems that I knew absolutely nothing about for people that didn’t really seem to like me. After 6 months I left that job with no prospects of a new one.
Lesson Learned: The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Take time to appreciate the benefits of your circumstances.
- I moved on to an internal audit senior job at a Big 5 firm (yes, there were 5 of them back then). This group had a much greater focus on financial statement audit, which was something I had never done, and instead of asking for help I languished in silence and tried to just figure it out on my own. It should come as no surprise that I laid a big fat egg on each of my first two engagements and was effectively demoted for a short period of time thereafter.
Lesson Learned: No one ever got to the top without asking for directions at least once or twice along the way.
- At that same job, my supervisor told me that I had a “confidence problem” that could be helped by watching the movie Top Gun. When I was asked to report back to him on what I had learned, I made the grave error of slipping in a joke about the movie, which made him very angry at me for some time. Oh, and he was my mentor.
Lesson Learned: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Be grateful when others invest time in your growth.
- On a technology-centered customer engagement, I was set to deploy a process that would impact thousands of users in the organization. At the 11th hour I detected a technical issue, and we made the decision to delay the rollout of the new process. However, I had already pulled access to all critical forms and reports and did not fully grant the appropriate rights back to all users. This led to a frantic call with my client to make sure access was properly reinstated.
Lesson Learned: The faintest pen is greater than the strongest memory. Keeping a checklist and a log of all actions ensures you can repeat the process in the future.
Lessons Learned from Letting It Out
Wow. I certainly feel like a weight has been lifted! I’ve shared these stories intermittently with my friends and more trusted colleagues, but this is the first time I’ve bared them for the entire world (or at least the readers of this blog) to see. Why would I do this? Well, aside from potentially limiting my future career options, I think these tales tell two things:
- Failure has been a constant in my career.
- These failures have not led to my ultimate downfall.
Besides not ending me as a professional in the audit and GRC space, they have proven to be the most invaluable lessons I have ever learned. Whenever I have failed, the great teachers and mentors in my life have encouraged me to ask myself, “How much will this impact you in one year’s time?” The answer in the vast majority of my failures is “probably not one bit.” The sun still came up the next day and the world did not end. Granted they gave me some very entertaining stories, but even as I write them today, I have gained so much more than that: I have perspective.
Without my many failures I have no idea where I’d be. However, if my failures have played a part in bringing me where I am today, then I am fortunate for having failed so spectacularly. I don’t often actively solicit comments at the end of these posts, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter (mainly so I can take comfort in not being the only failure out there). I would appreciate any thoughts you have.
–Jason Rohlf, OrangePoint