Hi! It's me, Joris.

It looks like I've linked you here myself. Linking people to a blogpost I wrote is often a bit akward, especially at work.

I likely shared this blog in an attempt to further a conversation. Usually the post does a better job at succinctly sharing information than I could by talking.

In any case, I hope me sharing this post doesn't come across as humblebragging, that's really the opposite of what I'm trying to achieve.

Thanks for reading!

Fail Fast they say
5 min read

Sure, but it's not that easy

In the tech industry, we’re always told to embrace failure and fail fast (or fail early, fail often). I’m a big proponent of this myself (see 13 Things I believe).

However, this doesn’t mean that failing is easy. In fact, coping with failure and personal failure in particular is incredibly hard for most people. The ability to quickly rebound from (perceived) failure is probably one of the most important soft skills you can acquire.

This is especially true for perfectionists, who are often hyper-critical of their own work. The fact that working meticulously is a key skill for (software) engineers probably means that we have a disproportional high number of those perfectionists in the tech industry. The more reason that “embracing failure” is easier said than done.


So what can we do to better deal with the negative emotions associated with failure?

I’ve learned that age and experience helps - as you get older, you learn to put things in perspective. You ask yourself more: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” And you learn that the answer increasingly becomes “Well, nothing really bad…”.

A single bad professional outcome seldomly means losing your job. And even then, losing your job doesn’t mean losing your house, family, friends or hobbies.

I read [S.U.M.O](https://www.amazon.com/S-U-M-Shut-Move-Straight-Talking-Succeeding/dp/0857086227) a few years ago. The author's website lists [a PDF with all 7 Questions to S.U.M.O](https://www.thesumoguy.com/portfolio/7-questions-s-u-m-o-cartoons/)

I read S.U.M.O a few years ago. The author’s website lists a PDF with all 7 Questions to S.U.M.O

Two tricks I learned from the book S.U.M.O (Shut Up, Move On):

Ask yourself:

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10, how bad is this? If 10 represents dying or losing someone close to you, then for me, work related issues almost never score more than a 3.
  2. In 6 months time, will I even remember this? In my experience, when it comes to day-to-day things such as having a bad meeting or a conflict situation at work, the answer is almost always “No”.

These tricks often help me rationalize my failures, which is a good first step.

However, it typically doesn’t do away with how you feel about the situation. This is especially true with Micro Failures.

Dealing with Micro Failures

Micro failures: small things that happen during the day that get you down.

Here’s a few things I’d put in this category:

  1. Bad interactions: A meeting, email, chat or phone conversation that involved conflict. A clash over something that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
  2. Dropping the ball: Forgetting to do something, misjudging a situation, a problem that escalates you didn’t foresee.
  3. Procrastination: Problems or conflict as a result of your own laziness or dislike for certain work.
  4. Personal disintegrity: when your own actions or behavior don’t line up with your core beliefs - including forms of Cognitive Dissonance. These ones often hit me the hardest when I reflect on them.

For a great perspective on failure (and a very well told story), I recommend watching this talk from Patreon's CEO Jack Conte.

In my experience, the negative emotion associated with these situations often comes out of disappointment with yourself. Time constraints or being caught in the moment are typically important factors: you could’ve done better if only given more time to think things through or prepare.

This in part defines emotional and intellectual maturity: how well you perform in these situations, even when under pressure.

Here’s a few tricks I’ve learned that can help me overcome the initial emotional response:

  1. Physical activity: run, walk, bike, go outside. This one is often the hardest to actually do.
  2. Listen to music: upbeat and happy music helps.
  3. Talk: vent your frustration to your partner, family or close friends. The act of talking itself often helps. Avoid venting too much to colleagues, use them as a sounding board instead - see next item.
  4. Listen: Ask for co-worker perspective, avoid biasing them up front. Someone I respect a lot once told me: “one opinion is a data-point, two data-points make a line, three make a trend”. Uncover the trend, ignore the outliers.
  5. Play with kids: they bring pure honesty and joy. They make perspective very real*.*

For most of us, coping and emotional resiliency against (micro) failures is a forever work-in-progress. The good news is that with experience and perspective, I’ve personally noticed definite improvements.