I remember it like it was yesterday. Sitting across the desk from the boss and hearing those words, “Katherine, we are making some big changes at this company and we are going to be letting you go.”
Even writing the words brings back those terrible feelings from anger to embarrassment to self-doubt and disappointment.
I am not alone. Angela is still so traumatized that she can’t bring herself to talk about her situation to neighbors, even one year after she lost her job. Tony stumbles over his explanation for why he left his last company. Both are extremely talented leaders. Their current job search situations were not their choice, but they can’t get over it. Their anger, embarrassment, self-doubt, and disappointment transfers to others, undermining their efforts to find their next gig.
Lots of situations can make us feel like failure faces. Sometimes I feel like the poster child for failure face! Here are a few of my personal favorites not related to my numerous terminations:
- Spilling coffee across the table at a big meeting.
- Tripping up the stairs in a skirt and heels.
- Trying to golf with the company President in the longest afternoon of my life.
- Getting stuck in traffic then arriving 45 minutes late to the biggest business meeting of my career, a meeting I was supposed to lead.
Some of those situations happened years ago but still make me shudder. Easy enough to say, “Buck up, girl!” But actually dealing with the feelings is harder than it sounds.
According to Fred Luskin, PhD, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, in a Prevention article, “the biggest obstacle to self-forgiveness is our tendency to wallow in our guilt.” He says, “It’s not just that we feel bad because we know we’ve done wrong…But some of us actually draw those bad feelings around ourselves like a blanket, cover our heads, and refuse to stop the wailing.”
Sh** happens. To everyone. It’s what you do about it that is important. Until you deal with it, that whiff of failure oozes out of your skin like garlic. Putting complicated, embarrassing situations in perspective helps you put them behind you so you can move forward with a positive perspective that makes people comfortable with you.
Here are a few tips if you find yourself with a big old failure face:
- Maintain composure. Find and repeat a calming word or phrase. Count to 10 and take deep breaths.
- Keep a sense of humor to put the situation in perspective. Find the absurd and you can get a good giggle about it, making the whole situation a lot less toxic.
- Think about a role model. How would your favorite leader (or super hero?) handle the situation?
- Fake it till you make it. Slap on a big smile and pretend if you have to. A little acting might reduce that whiff of garlic. Positive body language like power poses proposed by Ann Cuddy in her famous Ted Talk, help you take up more space and hold your arms and legs away from your body. Like Wonder Woman, you will instantly feel more confident.
- Practice your explanation in advance of job interviews. Find the fewest words to explain what happened. The more words you use in a long explanation, the more the listener will believe YOU were the problem. “The company restructured.” “I’m not a good golfer.” (You can tell that one really bugs me.) Short and sweet.
- Live in the present. Focus on what you want instead of what you did. “The company restructured. I am really interested in this role. Tell me more about…” If you don’t make a big deal about it, others will move on too. The simple act of focusing on the present will make the past incidents dim in perspective.