Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Holding on to failure 

It was nearly twenty years ago. I was reasonably content in my job – adequately successful and well respected - but my employer was relocating, and I decided to stay put geographically, choosing family commitments over career, and so needed to find another job.

I moved from being a technical expert in a project environment with no real business imperatives – the workplace was more like a club - to being a front line operational manager in an intensely competitive and volatile telecoms business.

Without going into all the gory details, I fucked up in a big way. Deadlines missed, blame liberally shovelled. I grew to dread going to work; in the end it needed a task force to clear up the mess. In fairness to myself, it was a mess I’d inherited – my failure was in my inability to see it for what it was and do something about it.

I was lucky in a way; it was the guy who appointed me who carried the can for my inability to do the job – my inability to shout, bang the table, aggressively fight my corner, command my 23 staff – he nearly lost his own job over it, and to his credit almost succeeded in keeping that fact from me.

The really bad part only lasted about a year. The company was moving so fast, reorganisations were an annual event and I was able gradually to move myself into positions where I felt less threatened. By the time I left (through redundancy), six years later, I’d made some friends who understood my strengths and weaknesses and found a niche for myself where I was respected and so could begin to recover my own self-respect.

But the scars remained. Self-doubt, insecurity, a child-parent attitude to organisational authority – yet these were largely hidden from the world behind a well-maintained protective facade. They were largely hidden from me, too. There are still areas of work and relationships where my mind doesn’t go, the shutters tightly barred to contain the fear of what might lie behind them; defences so automated I’ve ceased to notice that I’m defending myself against anything.

But something must be showing; a look of panic that crosses my face in unguarded moments – the rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights look. It's been noted a few times recently.

I need to prise open the shutters and examine some of these fears. Twenty years is a long time to allow the chains to stay in place.

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