The Harvard Business Review’s David Silverman is documenting peoples’ recovery curves after they face unexpected career hardship. As part of his project, he has been interviewing CEOs’ experiences with failure. Here’s an excerpt from his recent blog post on the subject:
I’ve met people who’ve seen their hopes dashed when they were passed over for promotion, others whose vast fortunes were erased by accounting scandals, those who’ve had their comfortable lives upended when their parents lost their savings, and even people who’ve simply and terrifyingly slipped and fell, putting them out of work and nearly into paralysis.
In all these stories, the common thread has been that while the failure was, theoretically, avoidable, since the cause always came from an unexpected direction it wasn’t really preventable. One man, walking to a doctor’s appointment while worrying about overseas competition for his manufacturing business and political intrigue involving investors, was hit by a car. He literally did not see it coming.
I can empathize with these managers. I once mismanaged my own company into ruin. I had an (initially unknown to me) alcoholic business partner and my trust and faith in him brought us both down. In my case, “only” 200 people lost their jobs and I ended deeply in debt. More difficult to cope with, both my business partner and father died during the crash of the company.
At one point I found myself standing on a Manhattan street, totally motionless, my body unwilling to move forward or backward. Wracked with doubt about every decision I’d ever made, I must have stood there for a half hour.
And here’s where the CEOs I’ve talked with are different than me. Faced with failure, they stayed in motion. They quit the bad job, they separated from investors they conflicted with, they got up off the sidewalk and went back to work.