Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Never Car Pool With Your Boss—
And Other Lessons Learned From
40 Years in the Workplace

Part 3

Part 2 of this series pointed out how, in relationships, “right” can sometimes be “wrong” and why we shouldn’t store up grievances. This installment continues the series of lessons learned from 40 years of participating in and observing workplace behavior—my own and others’.
Persistence pays off

When I was a child, my father often referred to me as “stub bor n”. Since being stubborn is not an especially attractive trait, I like to think I turned that quality into persistence. Most of what I’ve achieved in life has come through being persistent: not giving up even though all around me were saying “that’s enough”.

A few years ago while on the treadmill at the gym, I began talking to a woman on the machine next to me. After we discovered we had been in the same high school class, a light bulb when on for her, and she exclaimed “YOU’RE the one.” When I asked what she meant, she replied, “You’re the one who stayed in French class long after everyone else quit. We all talked about you and wondered how you did it.” In fact, by my senior year in high school, I was the only student in fourth year French. The teacher was beyond tough, with many unannounced tests and no mercy shown to those who struggled with the language or didn’t do their homework. Although my stomach was in a knot most days, I stuck with it.
 The payoff for my persistence was a scholarship to study in France for a summer, a perfect score on my French SAT exam, and permission to skip two years of college French. To my way of thinking, this was not a bad tradeoff for the sinking feeling when seeing those maps pulled down over her surprise blackboard tests. And after she became my private tutor (because I was the only class member), we actually developed a cordial relationship that was far removed from the tyranny she exhibited elsewhere.

That situation was just the first of many times during my career that I wanted to give up but kept going to achieve a goal. I’m certain that some parents and students at the high school thought I was being more stubborn (and stupid) than persistent. And maybe I was. However, I believe that persistence wins the day in most cases. The meek may not inherit the earth, but sometimes the quietly tenacious do.

Capture the lessons in every failure

All of us have no doubt experienced a lot of failures and bad times along the way to success. I know I have. What’s important is not how familiar you are with failure but the lessons you’ve learned from it. Capturing lessons and making appropriate adjustments to our actions are a key accompaniment to persistence. After all, if we persist in doing the same things in the same way, we will not move forward. This concept applies to organizations as well as individuals. Too often, organizations lose the knowledge gained through failure because they are so intent on punishing the guilty parties.

When things go wrong in our careers or in life—when employees quit, when we get fired or laid off, when the client or boss yells at us, when the project doesn’t meet expectations—it’s critical that we stay focused on:

What can I (or have I) learned from this experience?
How will I use this information to improve myself or a future situation?

The bad days will be forgotten but the lessons will become a part of who we are. When I was just starting out in my career and would become upset at a small downturn, I sometimes vented to a much older colleague in the next office. He would listen calmly to my ranting, then respond, “This too shall pass.” His response often saved me from giving up too easily or making myself ill from stress. I still say the phrase to remind myself when I’m in the midst of bad times that don’t seem to end. After I acknowledge the temporary run of not-so-great results, I ask myself the two questions shown above. This blog series is one outcome of my answers over the years.

Look for more lessons in part 4 of this ongoing series.


Carebuzz said...

Capture the Lessons - a great reminder for us all... the hardest part of all hard times is knowing there is a lesson to be learned... and knowing we arrive on the other side of a better life!

Thank you for the reminder.


Mary said...

Carol, thanks for commenting. I know you have gone through many difficult trials recently and learned from them. Others have often helped me capture lessons when I couldn't see them myself. I hope the same is true for you.