ALC English Journal Article October 2014

Experiences are Treasures

How can I get rid of the memory of my past failures and embarrassing experiences? They still haunt me and reduce my willingness to take necessary risks in my work and my personal life. 


Get rid of them? What a terrible waste! Before you throw away these treasures let’s consider a few possible alternatives with tremendous potential benefits for your work and your life.

Learn From “Failures” and “Embarrassing Experiences”.  While it goes without saying that success is more enjoyable, our failures provide the most valuable learning opportunities of our lives. Personally I chose to leave physics graduate school with only a master’s degree after three long, hard years of successful studies. Failing to obtain my Ph.D. was a source of shame and regret for me for several years. Eventually, however, I realized that my personality is not suited to developing theories, conducting lab experiments, and manipulating equations. I learned to follow my heart and do what I love instead of pursuing prestigious titles.

Be Grateful for These Experiences! Sometimes what seems like a failure is a very fortunate redirection of our lives. Long ago I worked at Hewlett-Packard (HP) for 10 torturous years. At that time HP was considered one of the best places to work, but every Sunday evening I started to fret about going to the office the following day. But I hesitated to quit because I feared I’d never have another chance to work for a world-class company. Eventually a wise coach told me that I didn’t fit in at HP. She guessed that I must be exhausted at the end of each day as a result of adapting to a workplace so different from my natural style. I was! And I quit! Rather than being haunted by this failure, I now realize that my 10 years at HP was the perfect preparation for the consulting work I do today. Now I feel lucky to have had this “negative” experience!

Tell a New Story that Fits the Facts. What we call “failures” are often merely negative interpretations of a set of facts, and these same facts can be interpreted positively. In the year 2000 I felt very fortunate to join a startup company that was a spinoff of Xerox Parc as their vice president of program management and organizational effectiveness. I was very proud of having finally made it into the executive ranks! Unfortunately seven months later our entire company collapsed in the “dot-com bust”. How can this story be told positively?! For a decade I dreamed of starting my own consulting business, but lacked the courage to do so. Having a regular paycheck was easier, and I was afraid to make the leap to self-employment. This failure was exactly the motivation I needed to start my own company, and I’ve been running my business successfully ever since.

Failure and embarrassment are unavoidable in life. Don’t seek to escape from negative memories! Mine them for the precious wisdom they contain. Be grateful for how they’ve enriched your life. Then create a new story that focuses on how you have learned and grown through each of these precious steps on your life journey.  This will give you the courage to embrace the next challenge heading your way!

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