Saturday, April 9, 2011
Crash and Burn
There are big things afoot at my company, and I have been asked to take on some different responsibilities. It's placed me outside of my comfort zone. Up until now, I've approached the requirements of the job with over a decade's worth of experience and expertise in a specialized field. There are rules and guidance to address technical accounting issues. I understand my objectives and there is a framework, a discipline, that I can apply to the process of achieving those objectives.
Now I've been asked to partner with someone in our organization who doesn't have financial sophistication to help him analyze how he runs his part of the business. Hard questions have been asked of him. Questions that he needs my help to answer. Questions that need to be answered quickly. However, mining the company's disparate information systems to try to answer those questions is a new process for me. I haven't done it before and the only way to figure out how to do it is to just do it. At times, I'm not even sure I'm trying answer the right questions, let alone doing it in the right way.
I've worked so hard this week. Pretty much all my waking hours. Wednesday night, after a 15 hour day where my effort was monumental but my accomplishment puny, I hit a wall. I started to question whether I could be effective at this part of the job. It's a possibility that these new responsibilities will soon become ALL of my job. I started to wonder whether I even want to do this. I started to feel like I was failing.
I'm embarrassed to admit this: I sat in front of my computer and wept, harder than I have cried in a long time. The frustration had built into this lump of tension that sat in my stomach, traveled up to my throat, behind my eyes and squeezed my brain. I had to let it out.
The next morning, I confessed to my boss how I was feeling and requested some coaching on the best way to approach the issue. I was assured that nobody thinks I'm failing. I said that no one had made me feel that way, but that I felt that way. I don't like it, not one little bit.
Coincidentally that evening, on the drive home from the office at 9:30, the local public radio station was hosting a Think Out Loud segment on Failure. There was a fascinating discussion on research with children to study the impact of praise, motivation and coping with failure. Professor Corpus presented findings that show it can be detrimental to young children to constantly praise them for how smart they are. It leads to a mindset that success comes from an intrinsic, uncontrollable attribute. When the children face challenges as they grow, their response to failure is a tendency to give up. They attribute previous successes to their intrinsic characteristic, smartness, and believe the failure has occurred because they are "just not smart enough." This is demotivating and can lead to a child's disengagement from the challenge. The research conclusion: it is important to praise children for their effort, not their attributes. This leads to an ability to view failure as the result of a controllable action (I did not work hard enough) and provides motivation to increase future efforts.
I reflected on this discussion of failure and how it related to my current dissatisfaction with my performance. Why did I end up indulging myself in a 10 minute crying jag so intense I nearly hyperventilated? I think it was because I knew that I had literally given all of the effort I could and was not succeeding. There was no more left. I have met with much success in my career, the product of both hard work and a general aptitude. I was thinking if this kind of effort is required and it's not enough, I want no part of it. I've never flamed out that thoroughly and it hurts to consider that happening now.
This is not the first time in my career I have shed frustrated tears. It will undoubtedly not be the last. As I try to relax and recharge this weekend, I'm reminding myself that just because this is hard now, I can improve. This too shall pass. I will learn and become more efficient. I may, in the end, decide that I'm better off applying my current expertise at another company that requires it rather than applying myself to this new facet of financial analysis that I don't enjoy. But I will have learned something in the process.
So tell me, have you any advice as I deal with this potential failure? Have you overcome a failure in the past, or had to admit defeat? Misery loves company; tell me your stories.