3 minute read article technology   leadership   wisdom   lessons   failure Comments

Failure is a part of life. It can be hard and embarrassing and humiliating. No one likes to fail. Failure can also be one of the greatest things to happen but only if you’re willing to step back and learn from it.

My failures are numerous and really start back in my high school years when I barely graduated with my class and they go all the way up to last week, when a client rejected something I had delivered and then turned down my offer to fix it. Some hurt more than others, but I have tried my hardest to learn from each and every one of them. Sometimes the lessons are obvious, sometimes it takes some distance and thought.

To paraphrase Emerson:

I cannot remember all the failures I’ve had any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.

What do you mean “ooops”?

During my career, I’ve had a few failures. Some have been big, some have been small, and some were certainly not noticed by anyone but me.

One of the big ones? Deleting production data while a client was looking over my shoulder!

What do you mean “oops”? – a client back in 2000

Going $50k over budget with a client back in 2000 was another big one. Taking on a leadership role long before I was ready in 2007 is one that’s worthy of its own blog post, so stay tuned for that.

I have failed to impress clients, leading to a loss of work. I have failed in interviews. I have failed giving talks at conferences - more than once. I have failed to see technology changes coming and have made wrong technology choices that sidetracked me for years (I’m looking at you WPF and XAML). Oh, and that one time the word “fuck” popped up in an app I worked on in the late 90s and my boss called me asking me about it. Thankfully it was found in testing, but seriously, that line of code should NEVER have been hit. 😅

That same boss pulled me aside very early in my career to tell me I was failing; not with the code I was writing, but in dealing with other people. His exact words?

Mike, perception is everything. If people think you’re an asshole, you’re an asshole.


All jokes aside from any friends reading this, I embraced his feedback and turned things around.

I learned from every one of those failures. I am grateful for every single one because they have made me who I am.

Progress, not perfection

I will always be harder on myself than anyone else when it comes to my failures. I know when I’ve fucked up, and I hate the feeling of failure.

While I don’t let my failures consume me, I think about them while they’re fresh so I can work out exactly where things went sideways. I think about what I could have done to avoid the failure, and ask myself why I didn’t “see it coming”. I try to improve myself, to guard myself against that failure happening again. I journal, I talk to others, and I try to right any wrongs to the best of my ability.

I never blame. Failures rest with me, and me only. It was in my control to do the “thing”, to send the email or write the code or not be prepared or…

I have learned to embrace the idea of amor fati. As Nietzche said,

That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it….but love it.

Love it because it gives me a chance to become a better, and not just a better developer, but a better human.

I also smile. The mistake has been made, the failure is in the books, there’s nothing else I can do except ensure it won’t happen again, so why not smile?

I am grateful, too. Grateful for the lessons. Grateful for the recognition that I can always do better. Grateful because failure means I’m trying and learning.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ― Winston S. Churchill

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