The Zen of “Failing Spectacularly”
Guest: Beth Moore
About a week ago I began receiving a series daily emails from Fail Spectacularly blogger Jason Seiden.
Seiden, a visionary organizational leadership consultant, is promoting his book, How to Self-Destruct: Making the Least of What’s Left of Your Career. Each morning I receive a new “How To Self Destruct Tip,” along with a page reference from his book.
Initially I saw this series of emails as simply a very clever way to promote a book. Jason Seiden’s tips are pithy and fascinating. The emails make we want to buy a copy just to get the full story. Then, I started thinking more deeply about the content and realized how truly wise, even Zen-like these tips are. I also realized how many of us engage in these self-destructive career management (read: life) behaviors as a kind of second nature. See what you think.
As of this writing, I’ve received about a week of Jason Seiden’s emails. Here they are – my comments are in italics:
Jason Seiden’s How To Self-Destruct Tips:
We loathe networking events. We sit in front of our computers hoping that LinkedIn, Twitter, Ryze or any number of other social media devices will pave our ways to shiny new careers. Worse, we stay in miserable, underpaid, unchallenging positions too scared of loss to take a risk and pursue a more fulfilling life. Sure-fire failure guarantee; never get off the bench.
Tip #2: Worry.
Dr. Daniel Mroczek is a professor at Purdue. He did a study that tracked 1,600 men over a twelve-year period, and he was able to find a link between negative thinking and a shorter lifespan. So yes, neurotics: you’re killing yourselves. Page 108.
Worry implies an attempt to control the future based on what’s happened in the past – which is of course both ridiculous and futile. Worry leads to paralysis. The ONLY thing we can control is what we are doing right now.
What are you doing right now to move you towards your life’s goals? Can you take action without making yourself sick over all the potential outcomes? Control is an illusion. Once you realize this, getting unstuck is much easier. It’s much better than killing yourself slowly, right?
Tip #3: Hire Trophies, Not Skills
Rather than hire people for tomorrow’s challenges—or even today—hire people who were clearly right for challenges they faced in the past. (And, while you’re at it, stop using the windshield in your car. Drive with both eyes trained on the rear view mirror instead.) Page 38.
I once worked for the president of a company who hired only “trophies.” They didn’t know anything about his business or customers, but he liked the way their backgrounds sounded to his Board of Directors. He no longer has to think about his Board because his company never made it through the recession. “Driving” with your eyes in the rearview mirror is dangerous. It keeps you from envisioning your (or your company’s) future.
Tip #4: Half-Ass It
Failing while actually trying to do something well still takes courage, and courage is the root of all ethical behavior. Don’t have any. Page 98.
We have all faced critical decision making points in our lives. Yes, risk-taking can lead to failure, but failure to take risks leads to spectacular failure. Having the courage to step outside one’s comfort zone, even if that simply means getting honest with yourself, is the first step.
Courage manifests itself as the quality of our work, the honesty with which we deal with co-workers bosses and clients, our conversations with recruiters and hiring managers, or speaking up for something in which we passionately believe. What kinds of work situations do we attract into our lives if we don’t face the world honestly and with courage? Or worse, if we simply don’t do anything because we’re afraid we’ll fail? We get more of the same. How does that feel?
Tip #5: Focus on the Past
Conventional wisdom tells you that to be at your best, you should do what you know. Great. Since you lack a crystal ball, what you know is the past. Therefore, anytime someone suggests you focus on the future, ignore them. As quick as you can, turn the conversation to the past and all the things that led up to the current mess you’re in. Page 160.
Jobseekers caught unemployed in the current sucky economy frequently fall into this practice. If you’ve lost your wonderful job and you’re struggling to replace it, can you think about your job search as a search for something completely new rather than trying to replace a past that’s gone? If you stay focused on the past, what opportunities might you fail to recognize?
Tip #6: Settle for “Less”
Perfectionists, in addition to being annoying, live lives of frantic desperation. To which I say: “Pfft.” Settling is a great self-destruction tactic for rookie fail-ers because they can dial it up or down depending on their comfort level.
Today, think about settling for “second best,” then maybe ratchet down to settling for “good enough.” If the opportunity comes, you’ll be ready for the ultimate fail: settling for “whatever you’ve got coming to you.” Page 161.
Most of us have been guilty of this one at some point in our lives. “Settle for less” manifests itself as work we’re not proud of, an unchallenging job, dull uninspired co-workers and a struggle for existence in a system of failure. I recently read that 65% of those employed are clinically depressed due to anxiety and dissatisfaction on the job. Depression is anger turned inward, which ultimately leads to “this is all I deserve” thinking. And that’s a mighty sure way to fail.
Tip #7: Benchmark Against Industry Competitors
Let’s say it’s 1909, and you make buggy whips. You hire a consultant to help you benchmark yourself against other buggy-whip manufacturers. The consultant says that you’re doing wonderfully, because by every buggy-whip industry benchmark, you are.
Today, let’s make sure history repeats itself: go out and compare yourself to a narrow, industry benchmark! Page 54.
I have to admit that this is my favorite Jason Seiden Failure Tip. Why? Because it speaks to the narrow definitions we simply accept as being “all that is possible.” Managing our (working) lives like a horse with blinders prevents us from envisioning our futures and seeing all possibilities. Before Roger Bannister, it was impossible for someone to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Impossible.
Have you convinced yourself that it’s not possible for you to have work that you love AND support your family? That your company can’t compete in its markets because you can’t attract top talent? Who ARE you in the world or marketplace? What happens if you throw open the windows and doors and step outside the narrow definitions of those around you or set by your competitors…if you stop believing your “stories”?
I’m looking forward to receiving more of Jason Seiden’s Tips on How to Self Destruct, and yeah, I am going to buy his book. If you subscribe to his daily blog updates you can get these beautiful nuggets in your inbox every morning as well. He promises to send one of these “Failure Affirmations” every morning for 100 days.
I guess I should mention that I don’t know Seiden personally. I found him on Twitter and just started looking a little further. What a great discovery!
What about you? When have you “failed spectacularly” at work or in your personal life? What did you learn from the experience?