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Failure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work

March 28th, 2008 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoFailure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work

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Failure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work
by Douglas E. Welch

When we think of failure, we typically feel guilty and ashamed. Certainly failure is nothing to be proud of and yet we face failure every moment of every day so it is something we must learn to handle. Failure is part of life in large ways and small. If we allow ourselves to feel ashamed or embarrassed about failure, we will soon find ourselves mired in the bog of mediocrity, afraid to do anything for fear that we might fail, and even worse, that others might see our failures.

With failure being so ubiquitous, is seems silly that we try to avoid it or hide it when it happens. I would challenge you to find anyone who hasn’t failed dozens of time in the last 24 hours. Perhaps they pushed the door marked “Pull”, or forgot something in the house they had to retrieve before they left for work, or bought the wrong product at the store. Still, we feel that others judge our failures harshly, no matter how small. Think of your embarrassment when you trip over a crack in the sidewalk, You immediately look around to see who noticed…to see who is judging you. What part of our unevolved lizard brain does this come from? How much harm does it do?

When it comes to your work and your career, a fear of failure can lead you directly to the spot you are trying to avoid – more failure. In a vicious cycle you start to avoid failure by only doing things you do well, which limits your opportunities for advancement and makes you even more fearful of losing what you have gained. Repeat this over and over and you find yourself unemployed because someone else…someone who isn’t afraid of failure…has developed new methods and skills that greatly outdistance yours.

I know you must be thinking, “but if I fail all the time, won’t they fire me for being so incompetent?” If you did nothing but fail, you might have something to worry about, but it is a rare person who doesn’t succeed in something. In another perverse paradox, those who fail frequently succeed even more frequently. Our ability to embrace failure, both small and large, allows us to create. If we don’t see failure as an end, but a beginning, it is a force that can drive us on to greater things. Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying, when asked by a journalist how it felt to have failed 9,999 times to create the light bulb, Edison replied “”I haven’t failed, I have had great success, finding 9,999 ways that do not work.” Anyone who can say that is a true master of failure. He is allowing failure to teach him without engaging in the judgment of self-worth. Failure is something that happens. You learn from each failure and move on – and sometimes learning to move on after a failure is the epitome of success.

Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying, when asked by a journalist how it felt to have failed 9,999 times to create the light bulb, Edison replied “”I haven’t failed, I have had great success, finding 9,999 ways that do not work.”

Think of a baby learning to walk. It fails much more than it succeeds and yet it continues to try. There is some inborn understanding that walking will be more useful than crawling. When we are engaged in a task we can feel the same pull dragging us forward. We know there is a better way, if only we can find it. Of course, in order to get there, we must wallow through the fields of failure, learning where to step and where to avoid, until we reach the other side. What good would it do to stop in the middle of the swamp?

So, if fear of failure is slowing your career, what can you do? First, you have to DO something. You have to take one small step on the road to a larger project, whether it is personal or work-related. If you have to, hide away while you take these first baby steps on your project. If you feel the world is judging you harshly, do your work in secret. As you start to see some small success on your project, you will start to see that successes begin to far outweigh the failures, In fact, you will see that each success is carried on the back of many failures. Without the wrong answers the failures provided you, you would have never found the right answers…or even the right questions to ask.

As you see more success in your work, start to show your successes to your closest friends and co-workers – people who can be trusted to celebrate your successes and not focus on the failures that led there. In this way, you gain confidence step-by-step until you gain your own trust that successes far surpass failures and that failures are a necessary requirement , an integral part of any success. With this new-found knowledge you will be ready to move forward in your life and your career, secure in the understanding that failure is a constant and welcome companion in your life and your work.


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Archive: Follow-though – February 25, 2005

March 27th, 2008 Comments off

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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Technology can help businesses and individuals accomplish great things, but sometimes we set ourselves and others up for failure before we even finish a technology project. While automating portions of a process can be helpful, if you don’t automate the entire process, from end to end, you might find your project doesn’t solve as many problems as it creates. If you are starting a new project, or involved in one currently, be sure to consider how the un-automated sections of a process might have some unintended consequences for the whole project.

This Friday: March 28, 2008: Failure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work


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An Interview with barista, Kate Schroeder

March 21st, 2008 Comments off

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Career Opportunities podcast logoAn Interview with barista, Kate Schroeder

Links mentioned during this interview:

CoffeeGeek.com
Alt.coffee newsgroup via Google Groups
World Barista Championships

Videos: Latte Art – via YouTube
Photos: Latte Art via Flickr


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Archive: The Experience – February 18, 2005

March 20th, 2008 Comments off

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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If you read anything by business guru Tom Peters (www.tompeters.com) you will hear the term Professional Service Firm (PSF) over and over again. This is what you and I do each and every day. Regardless of whether you are working inside a large corporation or as a freelancer like myself, you are your own PSF. At least, this is what Peters would like you (and I) to believe. I think he is correct and I have said much the same in previous columns.

This Friday: March 21, 2008: An interview with barista, Kate Shroeder


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Our Passions

March 14th, 2008 Comments off

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Our Passions
by Douglas E. Welch

Two weekends ago I attended the latest incarnation of BarCampLA. This unconference has become one of the highlights of my year as I get to “confer, converse and otherwise hobnob with my fellow wizards!” For a more detailed overview of what BarCamp is, you can visit the web site at http://barcampla.org. While that will give you a somewhat technical definition of BarCamp, for me is it a weekend devoted to passions. Passions about life, work and the world at large.

In one room, you might see a session devoted to the Yahoo User Interface Library and its uses, while in another room someone is waxing rhapsodic about the joys and zen of sandwich making. Learn the art of the DJ in one room and how to create artificial life in another. Imagine anything you might be passionate about and someone, perhaps even you, can present a session on it.

To be involved in a weekend where everyone is exploring their passions can be quite a heady experience. I spent most of Monday recounting the best parts of the weekend to my (only slightly interested) wife. It can be a high unlike any other and a big part of what draws me back each time.

Why do you need events like BarCampLA in your life? Simply because most of us don’t get enough time to engage in our passions in the course of our daily lives. We slog through all the tasks that MUST be done (paying bills and laundry come to mind) and allow our passions to fade away among the noise of our lives. Reconnecting with our passions, though, can be one way to make it through the normal ways of life and work with our sanity still intact. Even more, our passions can show us ways to make our lives more interesting and productive, even if our passions have little direct connection to our daily work.

Engaging in your passions at an event like BarCampLA engages your mind and energizes your spirit. Simply placing yourself in this special environment, away from your daily pressures, allows your thinking to change. You worry less about the “how” of doing things and spend a little more time thinking about the “why”. This type of thinking is horribly lacking in most companies where you can sometimes pursue a project for years that is then found to be obsolete.

Next, you are exposed to new ideas and new people in a non-threatening and even welcoming environment. Everyone is there to learn from everyone else. The most frequent exchange I hear in the common areas and hallways of a BarCamp is, “You do what? Cool!” Would that our workplaces were such an open place! Sometimes we simply need a place where “everybody knows your name” so that you can find the comfort and peace of mind to do the thinking that really needs to be done.

Finally, BarCamp events point out the fact that most of us do our very best work when we are engaging in our passions. You might be a pretty good accountant, but when it comes to building complex structures out of Lego you really shine. Maybe you write sparkling ad copy or create beautiful advertising graphics, but when you are talking about your online storytelling project, your eyes light up with a fire typically unseen during your average work day.

It is so important that we feel these moments of joy, even if they are fleeting. Reaching for the clouds is so much easier when you have been there before.

It is so important that we feel these moments of joy, even if they are fleeting. Reaching for the clouds is so much easier when you have been there before. Once you feel the excitement of engaging your passions you can start to look for ways to have similar experiences in your day to day life. These moments entice you forward and give you a reason to be passionate about all your work, not just a few chosen tasks.

If you aren’t out there engaging in your passions every so often, you might think you have lost them altogether. Don’t let everyday stress and worry drive you away from your passions. Find ways to re-engage them on a regular basis. This might be through a BarCamp experience or some other method of your own. Whatever the method, though, do it. You will be amazed at how engaging with your passions in one aspect of your life can truly effect everything you do.


Career Opportunities podcast logoOur Passions


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Archive: Notation and Recall – February 11, 2005

March 12th, 2008 Comments off

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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There are many “secrets” to a successful high-tech career, but most of them are simple procedures, habits, hints or, more likely, common sense ways of working more effectively. Over the years of my high-tech career (now 20 years and counting) I have found one particular “secret” to be invaluable. The need to remember information and recall it at will goes far beyond the usual recalling of addresses, phone numbers and directions. You need to be able to recall everything from simple procedures to complex processes for thousands of different computers, routers, PDA’s, printers and more. The real secret, though, is not how to store this all in your head, but how to develop systems that allow you to find the information each time you need it.

This Friday: March 14, 2008: Our Passions


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Audio: A Year of Visibility from BarCampLA-5, March 1, 2008

March 9th, 2008 1 comment

This is the audio from my talk A Year of Visibility at BarCampLA-5 on March 1, 2008. The audio quality here is slightly better than the video segment, as I was using my lavaliere mics.

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The answer lies somewhere in-between

March 7th, 2008 Comments off

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Career Opportunities podcast logoThe answer lies somewhere in-between
by Douglas E. Welch, career@welchwrite.com

Another Little League season begins here in Los Angeles and my son is joining his fifth team. It would be overstating the fact to say that I enjoy this time of year, but I do support my son in doing something that he enjoys, even if I don’t enjoy all aspects of it. One great benefit I receive, though, is the opportunity to observe people and how they interact in this microcosm of the world.

Looking back over the last several years, I have mined my time at the baseball field for a number of different essays I have published post the last home run of the day. You might question how career discussions can rise out of a kid’s game, but I often find that parts of our lives can illuminate the issues we find in our careers. For me, life and career are inextricably linked.

One observation I make each season is the level of commitment you see among the adults involved in Little League. While there is certainly an almost infinite range, I find 3 basic levels usually occur. First, there are the folks who are participating for the sheer fun of it. While, as our current coach says, “winning is fun, too”, they play for the camaraderie and excitement. You typically find this type of person in the early years of Little League, when the level of play is limited by the basic abilities of the kids.

At the other extreme is a group I call the “at any cost-ers”. As you progress through the years of Little League you start to encounter more and more people of this type. To them, winning is not only everything, it is the only thing. As you might imagine, I have a difficult time dealing with people like this as I have witnessed some horrible behaviors that I don’t think should be seen by kids or adults. I am sure you have encountered people like this in your life and work, too. In typical, “ends justifies the means” style, they will do nearly anything to get the sale, the raise or the promotion. More troubling though, is that they don’t hesitate to tear down others to build themselves up. These are the same parents and coaches berating children for a missed play instead of correcting them.

As you might imagine, it is when these two groups interact that the most friction is bound to occur. It is only natural when two extremes are brought into such close contact. The extremity of their positions allows them no understanding of each other and in a situation like that tempers can easily flare.

As you might imagine, it is when these two groups interact that the most friction is bound to occur. It is only natural when two extremes are brought into such close contact. The extremity of their positions allows them no understanding of each other and in a situation like that tempers can easily flare.

Now, of course, in your job you don’t have the luxury of doing it only for the fun, so you probably fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. In fact, this is where you should always aim your career…more than just mildly interested, but not so driven as to jeopardize your ethics in the sole pursuit of the dollar. It can be a fine line to walk and I am sure you deal with people everyday who seem to have no idea there is a line to begin with. That said it is important that you find your own path that skirts the more dangerous edges. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t “take a walk on the wild side” on occasion, but constantly living at the extremes has its own cost and can quickly reduce your effectiveness in your work and happiness in your life.

While I call for some sort of balance, there are others who decry the notion of balance between your work and life. They seem to fear a society of Milquetoasts (see http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Milquetoasts) where no one seeks to create anything new or try anything outside the norm. Instead, I see balance as a cyclical pattern alternating between extremes, but then retreating to some stable middle ground. This allows us to reach out for new concepts without trying to live every day at those extremes. Living at the extremes can prove to be a very lonely life and, for me, true adventure and true creativity require the presence and assistance of others. Despite our forays into the wilderness of the extremes, ideas – at home, at work or on the ball field – are best brought to fruition somewhere in-between.


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Archive: 24/7 – February 4, 2005

March 5th, 2008 Comments off

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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As any high-tech freelancer will tell you, one of the major problems of working for yourself is knowing when not to work. Unlike the traditional office hours of corporate work, freelance work can happen nearly anywhere at any time. I could just as easily write this column at 2 in the morning as 2 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, this freedom can lead to the feeling that you are never “at work” or “at home”, but always at an odd combination of both. If you aren’t careful, you could end up working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or, at least, you might come to feel that is that case.

This Friday: March 7, 2008: The answer lies somewhere in-between


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A Year of Visibility

March 4th, 2008 Comments off

This video was originally shared on blip.tv by dewelch with a No license (All rights reserved) license.
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