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Getting Past Failure
By Debbie Christofferson, CISSP, CISM

Were you watching the Olympics when the taekwondo athlete kicked the referee in the face? He blamed the judge for losing. Have you fallen down in your career, and blamed somebody else?

One of my biggest career failures came, when I "made" my boss break his arm.

We were hashing out roles and responsibilities in a staff meeting, and I spoke up to say we weren't making much headway. My manager didn't appreciate the feedback, and started yelling at me, saying I always had to "provoke" people. Pounding down with his fist, that conference room table actually moved when he hit it.

When the tirade ended, the meeting was pretty much over. Hearing a pin drop came to mind. No one said a peep, and we filed out like a row of zombies.

After walking around the building a couple times to calm down, I managed to cross paths again with my manager, on my way back upstairs. He apologized and I reciprocated, saying I hadn't meant to provoke him. His behavior was totally out of character that day.

When I came to work the next day, I headed straight to the meeting room, for my annual performance review at 8. My manager was never late, but today he was still missing at 8:10. Walking in at 8:23, he was sporting a cast that covered the bottom half of his arm. We didn't talk about that new arm ornament: "Don't ask, don't tell."

After reading through my review, and having no questions, I signed on the bottom line. He took a minute to remind me that yesterday was a very timely example of an "Improvement Area", for how I provoke others. Luckily, my review was already written and signed before yesterday happened. We're out of there at 8:33 sharp.

On the way back to my office, colleagues sidled up to whisper "What happened to his arm? We heard it had something to do with you in staff."

"I don't know what you're talking about", became my mantra. I stayed holed up in my office the rest of the day.

Later up the road, my manager removed me from my supervisory role. It took me six months to dig out of that hole, and then I was handed a change management role that nobody else wanted. After another year of redeeming myself, I moved on to a different division and career path.

It seems I was destined to be affixed to this manager, because I ended up working for him two more times. Jobs I desired seemed to follow in his path. The first time, he hired me based on a strong recommendation and the near-perfect fit to my experience. But he then pawned me off to a lower staff level. That was difficult for me.

In my next career promotion, he tried to block it, and then followed me two weeks after I started the job. He was named as my new manager. This was finally where we made our peace.

How do you put something like this behind you? First you have to face yourself. Something else was going on under the covers with my manager-of-the-broken-arm that the rest of us weren't privy to. It helped to remind myself to focus only on what I could have done differently to change the outcome.

Change comes from the inside out. It's not about other people, it's about you. It's not someone else's life, it's yours. Examine your own behavior, and go fix yourself before you try to fix anybody else.

Your career may suffer irreparable damage based not on the failure, but on how you respond.

"It's not about the job; it's about what you do with the job."

- Catherine Anaya, CBS Anchorwoman, speaking at "Women Rock", 9/10/08 in Scottsdale, AZ.

It took me ten years to think that arm was funny enough to laugh about. I'm not sure if my manager ever laughed.


View every failure as an opportunity to grow, and to create the person you're meant to be.

Like our Olympic champions, your career is your business, and you will determine its success. Carpe Diem! Seize the Day. Seize the opportunity, and make yourself what you want to be.

Send career questions via, email to "Ask Debbie" at

Coming Next: "The Art of Negativity and How to Overcome it"

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