Do not fail! Opportunity!

Guest contribution by | 01.11.2018

An acquaintance keeps quiet for seven weeks about the fact that she did not pass an exam during her studies – and thus her studies are over. She has a great job and has loaded her studies “on top”. But that doesn’t matter at the moment.

A friend who keeps asking me in conversations what he has already “managed”. All projects that were important to him had failed. The fact that these project ideas were enthusiastically received by others and that he was a mentor does not interest him. Because he “only” inspired, not finished.

These are just two examples that gave me the idea of addressing this so-called “failure”. Because I am not familiar with it in my life. Why is that?

Failure as a threat

I once asked my Twitter bubble what it thinks about failure. And apparently hit a nerve, the response: I received almost 12,000 impressions and over 300 responses. And of course there was also a lot of agreement with my unspoken thesis that failure does not actually exist, but that it is a kind of threat scenario, which not least prevents change. Failure can only occur in relation to a “thing” that usually involves two or more people. It is much about communication, because failure, as perceived by the respondents, seems to have a lot to do with different expectations of success. And similar to my friend’s question “What is the first thing you think of when you fail?”, answers such as “shame”, “withdrawal” and “great sadness” were also given. And often the failure was also related to new jobs, where people seemed to talk completely past each other in the job interview – even though both sides subsequently decided to sign a contract.

It seems that despite all the terrabytes we write and talk about New Work, there is still only black or white for very many employees and employers. Negotiations on grey are taboo because then someone would have to act.

Is failure really negative?

First of all: The Duden knows: “to fail” is a weak verb. How appropriate. After all, “failure” has a negative connotation in our society and is therefore to be avoided. Particularly in the professional context, which is usually more perceptible than the private one, this attitude promotes stagnation. The persistence in jobs that have not been suitable for a long time. Sometimes even on both sides. After all, employers and employees have been living together for so long, how can they manage without each other? Of course, motivation is no longer what it was in the beginning. The creativity to approach things differently also suffers. But what should the others think if you give up? What do I tell the family? I have so many obligations.

Our system feeds fears that feel real and are nourished, but are not based on real threat scenarios. Failure is not sexy. At least not for our current working life, which is still enormously oriented towards status through organisation charts, titles and big cars. Although everyone goes to new work events, meetups etc. and uses slack.

We like to read them, the stories about Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, all of whom have failed quite clearly during their lives. Because these stories are inherent in them, as we know the end, the spoiler is long since set: Everything will end (enormously) well. As for the professional success of these people beyond their death.

The inner coward

But what if YOUR inner fear is stronger than the inner voice that says I don’t want to go there anymore. Maybe because I am bored and underchallenged, harassed by a superior or colleague or maybe because I am dissatisfied with the development of my company? Many people seem to reply to the fearful person: “To leave now would be stupid. On the one hand, there is the income, the security, the family, the neighbours – and on the other hand, I have invested: In life and nerves.

I too know fears that arise from a theoretical environment and feel very real. They are amazing in a time when everything seems possible. There are infinite options… then comes school and the job. Both have to do with specifications and conformism. If you can live with it and adapt to it, it’s easy. But adapting also means evading, not making decisions. Hiding behind excuses.

What does failure mean in a time when speed and issues are increasing almost daily, not least due to digitalisation but also due to many other influences? Is the lack of change, which begins with ourselves, due to the excessive demands of the outside world? Does this make us remain in jobs that make us believe we are safe? Even if “safe” at the moment only means that I know where I am going on my working days and what I have to do? And what does this autopilot do to me when I question it? Does it steer me into the sea and let my familiar world sink?

My personal experience

Twice in my professional life I have been in a situation where the job felt like a bad marriage: I knew my counterpart very well, knew where the advantages and disadvantages lay, had invested a lot and had no fantasy whether the new thing would be better because I didn’t know what the new thing should be. I only knew what the old was not. I tried to change my job first and then myself, but the feeling remained: the best times are over. The first time I solved “classically” by sending out application documents, the second time I decided to go on the offensive and place on all social networks that I was available again. After the postings I threw my mobile phone under a lot of cushions on my sofa. Because yes: I have a different attitude towards new beginnings, but do the new employers in question have this attitude?

Excited about the end of my story? From 20 November (i.e. one and a half months after the end of my last professional relationship), I will be working part-time for a dream employer. And I’m enjoying #largeholidays at the moment, because I’ve negotiated to take a six-week break between jobs. I will also continue to build and expand my independence as a consultant and communications expert. My new employer contacted me because of my tweet, which was viewed 40,000 times within three weeks. Shared 90 times. My Twitter profile was clicked on more than 730 times, my LinkedIn profile 600 times. I had several calls from headhunters, human resources and project partners. There are considerations about board positions in volunteer work, assignments as a copywriter and moderator, free tickets to events to network with people who think and work similarly to me. And there were and are (still are!) a lot of direct messages from people who say that they are stuck like me, but can NOT get out of it. Some of them I have even spoken to personally or on the phone and encouraged them to leave the old behind. And be it in small steps at first. Reduce working hours, apply for educational leave and start something new.

We can go, change, think differently

New Work is on everyone’s lips and certainly a goal worth striving for. But how is it supposed to work if nobody changes and separates from the old? How do we achieve a culture of failure and real learning from mistakes if we all continue to hold up our masks because our colleagues do the same? I do not advocate dropping everything immediately that is boring or annoying. Hopefully we don’t do that with our private relationships either. But it is worthwhile to put some distance between me and the job and to reflect on why I am still here. Great if it still feels good. Not bad, if it gets worse in the long run. Because we are not chained. We can go, change, think differently. Let’s start with that!

Katja Diehl

Katja Diehl

Katja Diehl comes from Hamburg and is an independent communications and management consultant with a focus on new mobility, new working and digitalisation. After starting out as a journalist and press spokesperson and gaining expertise in leading positions at corporations and start-ups in the logistics and mobility industry, Katja has since made a name for herself as a Spiegel bestselling author in the German-speaking world with #Autokorrektur.