On feeling like a failure: let’s do it!

In our Blueprint2020 discussions last week, our Assistant Secretary acknowledged how scary it was to engage the entire public service in an open and transparent discussion around public service renewal. Apparently the Clerk’s been acknowledging the same. That statement stuck with me more than anything else during our small group discussion.

Why is it scary? I’m assuming he was referring to how much one opens up one’s self to criticsm by being “out there” asking for feedback (amongst other things).

I think I know how he feels because I feel the same way. I’m guessing I’m not alone. Most days I feel great. Most of the time, if I feel vulnerable I put on a brave face; fake it til I make it. Every once in a while, I’m overwhelmed by massive feelings of what an enormous failure I am. I’ve been told I’m too hard on myself so let me first say I have tactics and tools for staying present through those moments and coming through them relatively quickly and unharmed.

I can only guess how much harder it must be as a senior manager, always being watched, observed, criticized. I’m guilty of it myself; gossip, judgement, inappropriate and unkind words said in anger or frustration. And all that despite an ongoing practice and learning process through mindfulness (meditation, yoga, journalling, reading, listening, trying…). I still take short cuts (ahem, double gin and tonics!) to relax (err, avoid).

During our meeting our Assistant Secretary used the word “authenticity” which really resonated with me. I felt the need to come clean. To admit to my shortcomings. To acknowledge things I wish I had done better. To commit to improving.

Here’s a short list of the things I wish I’d done better this year:

1. I wish I had released the evaluation methodology that supports the Standard on Web Usability already.

2. I wish I’d participated more fully in ensuring the widgets and features in the Web Experience Toolkit were usable (e.g. tested).

3. I wish I answered more comments I’m tagged in on GitHub.

4. I wish I was more interested in programming and relied less on my soft-skills as a CS. Sometimes I feel like I’m re-enforcing gender stereotypes.

5. I wish I’d finished the usability testing on the WExT website.

6. I wish I’d shown more compassion towards colleagues and resisted the temptation to indulge in negativity.

7. I wish I’d followed through on more things that I’d started.

8. I wish I over-committed less frequently.

9. I wish I judged management less harshly, when they are grappling with all the same insecurities, pressures and constraints that I am (probably way more).

10. I wish I were living my values more consistently.

Friends, colleagues, readers, resist the urge to fill the comments section with accolades and examples of successes I’ve shared in! My blog is already full of things I’m happy and proud of; I’m not shy to post those things myself. :)

This post is my way of standing in solidarity with my Assistant Secretary and the Clerk, my senior managers and fellow leaders from anywhere in the hierarchy, who take risks to be authentic and suffer the criticism that comes with having a public persona (as most of us do in this social media-driven world).

Despite my (idealistic) cynicism around Blueprint2020, I’m cautiously hopeful with the energy and ideas that are emerging through this open dialogue. I hope for one thing — increased acceptance of failing. Let’s create opportunities to fail small and often, as individuals, and as teams.

I’d love to see a more rigourous selection process placed around the prolific ideas coming out of this exercise; a demonstration that we we’re treating each idea as a hypothesis and seeking data to support the best way forward. I believe that alone would lead to more frequent successes and an overall better environment in which to work.

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About Laura

As a Business Analyst working for the Canadian federal government in Web usability, I have the opportunity to be a part of a growing movement of professionals implementing user-centered design principles.
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3 Responses to On feeling like a failure: let’s do it!

  1. Martha says:

    Laura, because you asked I’ll resist the urge to praise you for your ongoing openness and honesty and for always striving to be better, which will in turn result in doing better.

    I’ll also resist the urge to thank you for the best ‘list’ of the year. I’m going to write my list of things I wish I had done better this year, keep it handy and add it to my performance management plan.

    A great call to action for all of us.

    Thanks for sharing and motivating.


  2. Thom Kearney says:

    That wish list looks like a “to do” list to me!
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Laura says:

    Thanks Martha and Thom. Working on #3 right now! Thanks for helping me see this as an opportunity not a failure.

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