Falling forward

My young daughter came to the dinner table where I was working, laptop and papers spread out in front of me, and asked me to kiss her stuffed teddy bear good night. My wife came up behind her, patted her on the pajama bottoms, and told her to run upstairs, she would be right behind her. My wife rubbed the back of my neck and asked how long I was going to be working. I looked up at her with tired eyes. 

I was working on a special project that had been added at the last minute. I had spent much of the weekend on it and I still wasn’t done. “I’m going to see if I can put in a few more hours of work tonight, catch a couple hours of sleep, and then get up early and get into work before 5:30, before any of the craziness, and see how much more I can get done before my meeting with my manager,” I told her. 

She kissed me goodnight, told me that she was worried about me, and asked that I give her a call the next day to let her know how the presentation went. I considered chucking my laptop to the floor and running upstairs to be with my wife and daughter, but I knew that I had to get the work done. Instead, I put my head in my hands and wondered how I had gotten myself into this precarious position. 

Needing to say “no” but instead saying “yes”

A few days earlier, my manager had asked my team and I to take on the last minute request. It was for one of our biggest internal clients and had several significant moving parts. My team was already slammed so I took on much of the work myself. When my manager and I spoke, I considered pushing back, but we hadn’t been working together all that long, were still feeling each other out, and I wanted him to know that he could count on me. 

Of course, I had bit off more than I could chew, and I ended up scrambling to put everything together. I had a few creative ideas, but I didn’t have enough time to flesh them out and while the plan covered the bases, it failed to break much new ground. To my way of thinking, it fell flat. 

In the final hours, I tried to cover the biggest gaps and to use an old saying that locals where I grew up used to throw around all the time, I tried to put “lipstick on a pig.” In short, I tried to cover or hide the biggest flaws. “Oh, what have I gotten myself into,” I screamed at myself on my commute into work. 

Of course, my presentation the next day went fine enough, but I was honest with my boss about where I thought the project deliverables were failing. He agreed with me, but also pointed out areas where he thought I was being too hard on the work and myself. 

An honest conversation

We talked some more about how I had gotten to this point, putting in crazy extra time to present something that even I was not in love with and chided me for not coming to him sooner. I pushed back on ways that he could communicate better and the two of us could get on the same page. 

I haven’t thought about the project in years, but it comes up every now and again. In many respects it was a failure. I failed to achieve our agreed upon results. In other respects, though, I consider it one of the biggest wins of my career. Thanks to the project, I learned much about myself, managing others, project management, working with leaders and have been sure to not make the same mistakes twice. When I see projects begin to fall off the tracks, I refer often to that project and make sure to bring in others to ensure that we’re all working toward the same goal.

Which mindset are you?

Researcher Carol Dweck has written extensively on fixed and growth mindset. A fixed mindset means you believe intelligence, talent, and other qualities are innate and unchangeable. The mindset takes the approach that you are what you are. If you’re not good at something, you typically think you will never be good at it. By contrast, a growth mindset means you believe intelligence and talent can be developed with practice and effort. People with a growth mindset tend view failure as a way to overcome challenges and setbacks. 

Dweck’s research shows that failure can be a painful experience for folks with a growth mindset, but it doesn’t internally define who they are. “It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.” I’ve long found the approach that we take to failure — no matter what it might be — to be fascinating. 

I write more today on failure in my story, Making a run for it, on Writing from the Heart of The Matter. In the post, I write on how I experienced a key failure while a member of my high school cross country team and how I was able to keep a growth mindset to turn a failure into a mini success. The event happened decades ago, but the idea of failing or falling forward still sticks with me today. 

What’s your fallback approach? Do you have more of a fixed mindset or do you seek out continuous learning? Does your mindset change depending on a specific situations? At work? Or home? Let me know your thoughts and perspective. 

Related Story:

Making a run for it

On The Heart of The Matter

Images by Pexels.

33 thoughts on “Falling forward

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  1. I really enjoyed this, Brian! I think failures are necessary for learning. I definitely have a growth mindset, and I am open to changing the way I view and look at things. I am currently on a weightloss journey, and it opened my eyes to so many different things. My mindset has changed dramatically from when I started!

    I am glad you learned a lesson from your work project. It can be hard to not bite off more than we can chew sometimes. Especially for us overachievers!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I have overextended myself at work a few times, working long days and weekends. It always led to burnout, which was never worth the praise for getting a project done. I’ve always been interested in learning, but it took me time to learn that failure is an integral step in the learning process. Great, thought-provoking post, Brian!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. The biggest win of your career (in my view, at least) was the open communication and ensuing discussions that led to lessons learned and your finest future moments. Your blog reminds me of how many failures one must have before success sets in. Growth minds keep on trying. Fixed minds don’t seem to muster up the oomph to try. Unless it’s really important, of course—that would be me. Fixed mind. Hmm. Comfort zone, perhaps? Thanks for making me think!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect that we all have growth and fixed mindsets on things. Improving my writing? I have a growth mindset! Improving my singing or dancing skills? No way, I’m very stuck in the mud there, I can’t imagine ever getting better, not without hours and hours and hours of work! Ha ha

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great example of an honest conversation with a supervisor…even if it came after the big-time stress. I mean…maybe he could’ve tuned in a little more about the unwieldy request…but I love that you had the post-mortem chat and that the conversation, and the experience stuck with you – mostly as a positive experience. I’ve been in that spot – wanting to be the get-along-girl and then despising the outcomes, wishing I’d taken a risk to use my voice. Cheers to you for sharing a terrific example of growth, Brian! 😊😘😊

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting piece. I’m not sure whether it’s just fixed vs growth. I definitely think we can get better at things. I think there’s another mindset that with our finite time, it’s most efficient to focus on our strengths and do those things. I remember years ago in Seattle, HR at many of the big companies were having new employees read the Strengthfinders book and take that test. I’m curious what you think of that and where it might fit in?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup strength finders seems to come up in the corporate world every few years. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Love “figuring” myself out. I rate high as a achiever. It makes sense. I’m a perfectionist, need to achieve or accomplish something everyday. It doesn’t have to be huge … just something important to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was introduced to Dweck’s book while writing a parenting column for SwimSwam. There was a sports parenting coach that I followed who suggested reading it. I used growth mindset in a lot of my columns. It’s so important for athletes as well as in other aspects of our lives. I think your project was instrumental in growth of a working relationship with your boss.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. How limiting to view oneself as being fixed. I think we all have the capacity and capability to evolve and grow. How could we be where we are today if nothing/no one changed.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I love this post Brian and how you can openly share a moment that might not have been a shining moment but a pivotal learning moment. It’s often in the moments that things don’t go well that we learn so much about ourselves. And how awesome that both you and your boss recognized that!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Honest conversations with bosses don’t seem to be the norm in the workplace. Your experience having had that reminds me of Jack Welches book, Winning. In the book he talks about honesty in the workplace. Have you read it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read the book, but I know that was a key topic of his. I just felt that I needed to come clean. I needed him to know that I could go better. I remember thinking that it was better to fall on my sword once so-to-speak thsn have the same challenges come up again and again. It was for selfish reasons too. I knew I couldn’t lose another weekend like that again!!! Ha ha ha

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh boy, can I relate to your scenario. As a consultant, I’ve often joked with my colleagues that “your poor planning is not my emergency.” Except it’s really hard to hold that line.

    But I really loved what you learned from it and what it sparks when you think back. A growth mindset – yes!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Great post Brian! I definitely fall into the ‘growth’ mindset. I barely recognize myself now from the scared-to-death twenty-year-old I once was. I know for a fact people can and do grow and evolve, and as hard as the journey has sometimes been, I am very grateful for the lessons. Thanks for sharing this important lesson in your own growing process!

    Liked by 1 person

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