What are failures? Do you need to be afraid of them? Is it right to use the failures of others as a moment of superiority over them? You can learn more about this from the story of Dustin Fife, as well as by reading prime essays on this topic, because it is very important to understand that making mistakes is normal, and you shouldn't feel depressed and ashamed, you should use your mistakes as learning material.
I have failed numerous times in my life, but we usually do not discuss our failures. If you have ever been to a library conference, board meeting, or office party you have heard endless expositions of triumphs and laudable results. Failure is unacceptable in our society and, more often than not, in our work places. We treat other people’s simple mistakes and good-faith efforts gone awry as personal opportunities to gain advantages. We have all seen people do this and many of us have done it ourselves. I understand that workplaces are competitive, but at what cost?
Failure is inevitable, but what do we personally, professionally, and institutionally lose by not discussing it openly and honestly? Even if we do discuss our failures within a safe space, what do we lose by not sharing what we have learned more broadly? Now this isn’t me trying to say my failures weren’t actually failures because I learned something from them. This is me sharing my failures and some of the lessons that I have learned in hopes of helping someone else avoid the same fate. So, let’s discuss three of my failures.
The Insecure Man-Child
When I began my job in San Juan County I had almost no library experience. On my first day of work I was in charge of a branch library and within two months was managing the entire system. Unfortunately though, I was too insecure to ask for help. I did not want my employees to know that I knew less than them. I did not want the library board to know that I was learning on the go. I did not admit to myself that I needed help. It took me several months before I started reaching out to an amazing library board president and other librarians from around the state. Instead of being met with scoffs from unsympathetic colleagues as I assumed I would be, I was given every chance to succeed by committed individuals who invested in me. They created a safety net for me that allowed me to grow and learn. I was working hard, but I wasted several months groping in the dark before I allowed people to help me.
This leads to two important questions: are you part of someone’s safety net and do you feel like your supervisors and colleagues are a safety net for you? Everyone needs a safety net. If we are going to be creative and innovative we are going to fail. I was given a safety net and now I try to be a safety net for others.
I began telling people as early as the sixth grade that I was going to be a history professor. I loved history and I did well at school. When I began graduate school in history I became very depressed after just one semester. I was not sufficiently self-aware to connect the dots right away, but by my second year I knew I did not want to continue. The only problem was, I did not know how to articulate this to myself or other people. I was newly married and had told my wife that I was going to be a professor. I felt like I would be letting her down or changing the game on her if I changed my mind. I had always discussed grand plans with my friends and family, what would they think of me for giving up so easily. I just kept trudging along until my lovely wife confronted me. She knew I was unhappy and I finally let it all out. More than anything she was relieved that I had finally discussed this with her. She helped me search for other opportunities and because of her I now have a career that I love. My failure wasn’t not becoming a professor, it was not trusting the people who loved me the most.
Everyone needs people in their lives that will confront them with hard truths and then support and love them unconditionally.
For years my wife has taken great care of our ninety-something year-old neighbor. She invited her to meals, holidays, and simply to visit. Earlier this year she invited our neighbor over for dinner on Mother’s Day. She came, we had good food and a nice visit, and later that night she died. She had told her cousin what a wonderful dinner and evening she had had, and her cousin relayed this compliment to me. This woman had very little family and almost nothing to do. I could have done so much more for her and now she is gone. For some reason I thought a ninety-something year-old woman would be there forever. This might be more a regret than a failure, but what if that was my mother or my wife. I could have done so much more to make her life enjoyable.
I know we are all working hard, but there is always something more that we can do.
Now, why am I discussing all of this in an article that is supposed to be about innovations. I believe that it is an innovation to discuss failure. We all need to openly discuss what went wrong. My failures stay with me much longer than my successes and mean much more to me in the end. We all need to work on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and emotional maturity. I believe that discussing failure will go along way to help each of us do that. I would also suggest that you all read a book called True North: Discover your Authentic Leadership by Bill George.
May The Failures Be With You.
By: Dustin Fife, San Juan County Library Director and ULA President-Elect
Failure: EVERYONE’s Dirty Little Secret by Creative Libraries Utah, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal License.
Nice post Dustin. You are so right.