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Remembering Our Success (when we’re mired in failure)

photo credit to the author (2010)

All of us will experience a low point some time in our career; that moment where we question all we’ve done and contributed. This may happen when we move into a job that’s a poor fit or when we run into a former colleague whose picture (we just know) is in the dictionary next to the word “phenom”. Still other times it may come when we’re struggling to advance or have made a mistake that has not only shaken our boss’s confidence in us, but leaves us wondering if we can still trust ourselves.

Regardless of the why, this is a tough place to be and for some can represent a challenging place from which to escape. The key to pulling ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and moving forward once again lies in remembering the times when we rocked the project, our ideas saved the day and our contributions made others say “Great job!” or even simply, “Thanks!”.

I’ve been there (that low-point) and it’s for this reason I keep a nondescript box in my office that contains printed emails, typed letters, certificates, photos, and other items I have received over the years. These were sent to thank me for something I did to make some situation a little better, or to acknowledge, commend or congratulate me.

Items in my box include:

  • Emails from former students thanking me for what they learned in my classes or for guidance I shared as their advisor
  • A letter of appreciation for singing the national anthem at a college commencement ceremony
  • Old projects with a former manager’s handwritten compliments on the front cover because it had been a big hit with the client
  • Emails or notes from employees past and present thanking me for something I have done that was helpful
  • Awards, certificates and commendations of all kinds (these can be as grandiose as a recognition for excellence or as simple as a thank-you for participating in last year’s employee picnic committee)
  • Certificate (from more than 25 years ago) that I earned for completing additional EMT training in the US Navy that included advanced water rescue techniques.

And so on (you get the picture).

Whenever I find myself feeling down about my career trajectory, my ability to contribute, or my worth as an employee I open my box and take a walk down memory lane.

It’s crucial to understand that there is more in this box than old “trophies”. There are also the memories of what it took for me to get to the place where I could receive a congratulatory note or memento.

Teaching well (so students learn skills that help them later on) requires an investment in a knowledge base that extends beyond textbook learning objectives; singing takes a lot of practice. Being a compassionate manager requires daily attention, patience and thoughtfulness and at this point in my life, I look at that EMT Certificate with pride (& some amazement) 🙂

In that box I also find remnants of the many times I failed to achieve anything worth mentioning at all. Each accomplishment carries with it the reminders of the failures I had along the way, and in those memories I find a pearl of wisdom — the simple truth that no achievement comes without a lot of practice, a lot of unrecognized contributions and a path strewn with botched attempts, missteps and full-scale failures.

In the depths of hard times we hone our skills, harden our will and smooth our rough edges so we have the opportunity to develop into someone ready to receive a note, a certificate, a letter or a smile and a thank you.

We’ve all experienced low times as well as congratulations, gratitude and appreciation. Whether we use a box of memories, a bulletin board or a digital list stored in our smart phones, when we learn to keep things in perspective, the low-points pass quickly and we celebrate and appreciate our unique contributions in a healthy and balanced way.

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