4 Causes of Colossal Failure and How to Recover

Failure is a bummer. Too often we fret about the prospects, relying on preparation and readiness to get us through our challenges unscathed. But still potential failure always lurks.

The case of Kyle Stanley

You don’t have to know anything about professional golf to identify with Kyle’s story. In 2011 he debuted on the PGA tour, recording four top ten finishes, his career off to a great start.

On Sunday, January 29, 2011, Kyle was playing the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. With a 3-shot lead, he was 77 yards from the pin on the par-5 final hole, poised for his first win.

Scott Bordow, sports writer for The Republic captured what came next:

… his 3rd shot hit the green and spun back into the water. Moments later, he …wrote a triple-bogey 8 on his scorecard. Within 30 minutes he was shaking the hand of the winner, Brandt Snedeker, who bested him in a two-hole playoff.

This wasn’t just the loss of a golf tournament and the $1,080,000 winner’s check. It cost Stanley an invitation to the coveted Masters Tournament and a two-year qualifying exemption on the PGA Tour. It also pointed a glaring public spotlight on him. Never again would commentators mention his name without referring to his collapse at Torrey Pines.

Colossal failures are memorable and often unshakable.

Protecting yourself

Remember, it’s colossal failure, we’re talking about here–those instances where something out of the ordinary and often unpredictable happens when the stakes are high.

Jaw-dropping failure can be credited to:

1. Mistakes in execution and/or judgment–We simply don’t apply our knowledge or showcase our skills as well as we usually do.
Stanley chipped his ball onto the 18th green on a down slope without enough spin to hold it. So it rolled into the water.
2. Changed conditions–We’re suddenly facing unexpected situations and don’t quite know what to do.
With the pressure of a penalty stroke weighing on him, Stanley wasn’t able to figure out how to win.
3. Unmanaged emotions–We let our confidence crack under the weight of the pressure, allowing doubt and negative self-talk to creep into our present.
Stanley seemed outwardly calm as he went about his pre-shot routine on the 18th green, but his missed putts were indications that his concentration had been shaken.
4. Bad luck–There are forces beyond our control that we can’t successfully address.

Stanley’s ball could have stopped before it reached the water but it didn’t.  Such is life.

The road to recovery

Colossal failures don’t define you negatively unless you let them. It takes courage to take on a colossal challenge and equal courage to deal with failure.

To recover from failure you need to:

Stop second-guessing or berating yourself–According to Bordow, Stanley said, “You can either let it get you down…or you can focus on the positive. I did way too many good things last week to dwell on one shot or one hole or one putt.”

Take support to heart–Family, friends, and other golfers came to Stanley’s side, sharing what they’d learned from their own big failure experiences and reinforcing his talents.

Commit to becoming stronger–Refocus on your success goals and what it takes to achieve them. Turn the failure experience into a springboard to renewed commitment to the work you need to do. That’s what Stanley has already started.

The big finish

You can’t fail big unless you’re darn good at what you do. Why? Because you don’t get a chance to be center stage unless you’ve already distinguished yourself.

Bordow writes about Stanley: “…only in losing in such devastating fashion did he finally understand that he was good enough to win.”

The same is true for you. The big stage and the potential for colossal failure are measures of what you’ve already achieved and what you will achieve. The downside of failure is only as big as you make it. If you’re smart, you’ll face it bravely when it comes and then turn it to your advantage. That’s what winners do.

Photo from squaylor via Flickr

Laugh. Things Are Funny! | Lighten Up Your Personal Brand

Work can be funny. And the people too! Why? Because stuff goes wrong. We goof up, embarrass ourselves, misread things, and blow our cover. 

Finding the “funny” in the things can save the day and lighten up your personal brand.

Take your work seriously. Yourself…not so much.

Our value as employees is measured by the results we deliver. That is serious business.

We get known for our ability to:

  • Solve problems, take the lead, show initiative
  • Innovate new products, upgrade services, improve processes
  • Negotiate common ground, resolve disputes, and motivate 

How we do all that is the style piece of our brand. And style points are a big deal.

I once worked with the general counsel of a big corporation who gave me this great insight: “In any company, you can always tell who the aspirants are.”

The “aspirants:” People who want to “get ahead” so badly that every move is measured by how they are perceived, how their employees perform, who they affiliate with, and how flawless they seem.

An ideal company is not one of Borgs, Steppford wives, or clones. It’s made up of imperfect people with talents who want to work together toward a common end.

Lighten up. Recovery is all.  

No one wants to spend a 40-hour week with Simon Legree, always grinding, analyzing, directing, and recoiling over errors. And we don’t really want Robin Williams’ antics all day either.

The workplace will always throw us a curveball. No one can anticipate every blip or miscue. Things will go wrong for the business and they will go wrong for us. How we react and recover builds our brand.

Here are a couple examples where a good laugh helped:

1. When I was a new staff professional, my boss wanted to introduce me to the field managers I’d be working with, all men. While I was in an animated conversation at lunch, the button on my blouse popped off right at the cleavage line. There was no missing that!

I was quick to joke: “How about that for making an impression?” Then I paper clipped my shirt back together. With that unexpected solution and my laugh, I was able to break some of the “how will it be working with her” tension.   

2. I once interviewed a teacher for a consumer education coordinator’s job. He was new to the business world, as I had been. The guy had clearly dug out a suit he hadn’t worn in years since the collar was so tight he looked like he was choking. At one point, while answering a question, he leaned back in the conference room chair not realizing it tilted. He was so startled that he yelled out, “Whoa!” before almost going over and then started to laugh. He then loosened his tie.

Hired! He later became a community affairs manager where his sense of humor with the media and local officials serves him daily.

3. I once needed to pick up an antique bureau I’d bought on the way home from a business meeting. I was scheduled for another meeting with our general counsel along the same route and told him I would drive. Reluctantly, he agreed. When I showed up in a borrowed pick up truck, he was stunned.

Then, when I told him I’d need his help loading the bureau, he burst out laughing. That story got plenty of legs! He was a great ally throughout my career.

Your laugh builds a bond. Return laughter seals it. 

The easiest way to break down a barrier with someone is to make them laugh. Self-deprecating humor is one way to demonstrate our shared humanity. Of course, it doesn’t work with everyone and every comic knows: “Timing is everything.” So look for the right moment and the right opening to share something amusing or downright hilarious.

Being business fit means attracting a following. When you attract their laughter too, they will stay with you a long time. Now, go ahead. Warm up your belly laugh!

Got a funny work experience to share that brought a few laughs? What was the personal brand effect, if any? Got my laugh hat on!