Thoughts & Pictures

Let's be serious, pictures are better than the thoughts. 

Jewel Falls, Portland Maine, July 14th, 2018 - original

Jewel Falls, Portland Maine, July 14th, 2018 - original

What To Do When You Fail

I want to start this blog with a now not-so-recent failure of mine.  There is a lot of lip service given to project failure, and failure is acknowledged as a constant part of all professional’s lives.  It still pushes me back, and most of the time the emotional ramifications stick with me more than the professional ones.

Last year, one of my side-projects failed spectacularly. It was a favor to an acquaintance that ended up taking twice as long as I had thought and caused the demise of our professional relationship.  Neither of us were blameless in the project’s failure and I was left really shaken and less sure of my professional worth.

I did a quick search for ‘ways to get over failure’ but didn’t find much in the way of dealing with the emotional fall-out of small to medium professional failures. Big ones sure, but not those failures that are closer to paper cuts. So I figured I’d give it a whirl.

Articulate and accept whatever feelings are coming up

We all bring baggage to the table around failure. In this case, it brought up memories of a devastating past professional failure, fears around punishment, feelings of worthlessness and insecurity. It also brought up frustration and guilt around my own role in the project. I’m often surprised at how little it takes to trigger these responses- a simple missed deadline- but taking some time to step back and think about it objectively can be an incredibly calming exercise.

Share the feels with someone else

I hear that sharing your feelings can actually change your brain and how you view the situation. I know that when I shared my experiences of failure, other people told me of times when they failed, both big and small, people who I thought had it all together. It became more and more just part of my own story, one that I hope to share to some struggling young thing at some point in the future.

Identify stumbling blocks- write a new project plan and/or lessons learned.

Grounding how I feel, after I’ve identified those emotions and talked them out, in actionable items makes the whole ‘feelings’ thing worth the time for me.  

In this case, there were three major stumbling blocks that caused this project’s failure. Namely, I did not have the bandwidth to accept the project, there was no specific timeline agreed upon at the start of the project, and most of the communication was over email. Although I cannot make changes to my project plan now (it was a short project) this was a good reminder that saying no to a project can be the best option for success, getting consensus on a specific timeline before I accept is required (even when I know the person) and that when things are tense, a phone call can be more helpful than an email string, where tone is hard to identify.

Even without the ability to change anything at this point, just knowing that there are three good reminders that going forward I can change things to start making whole new mistakes!

Appreciate and affirm your passion

If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t feel it when I fail. Even when it is something is going sideways, or has completely gone up in flames, it wouldn’t matter if I thought it wasn’t worth anything. But it feels more protected to keep a distance from where I am and what

But at the end of the day, knowing that it WAS important to me. It could have been because I was invested in the actual project, who I was working for, the ideal the project is furthering, or just my own professionalism, acknowledging and appreciating how important it is was to me- and maybe acknowledging whatever your failures, and keeping passion alive even after a setback can change the way you feel about the project regardless of the outcome.

So there we have it - Articulate, Share, Identify and Appreciate; because failure is a part of every project, and the more we speak openly and honestly about failure, the easier it becomes to take care of ourselves when failure inevitable comes knocking.


As a project manager in the tech-enabled access to justice space, I enjoy this public/private blogging space, and hope to bring a little kindness and humor to the conversation, and a little more beauty to the room. 

"In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants and hold the world in arms grown strong with love. And there may be many things we forget in the days to come, But this will not be one of them."  - Brian Andreas (Traveling Light: Stories & Drawings for a Quiet Mind)