So, I failed recently. Today, actually. I mean the fail kinda dragged on over weeks. But this morning I put the nail in the coffin.
I was supposed to write a review for a website of smart sex toys and sex apps. But between my vision being different from my editor’s vision, a few toys not being up for review, and most sex apps sucking, I ran out of time to produce something my editor would be willing to run.
My first instinct was righteous indignation. “Ugh,” I thought, reading the email listing everything wrong with my piece and all the work I need to do to get it ready to publish. “I’ve already put so many hours into this! Who does she think she is asking me to do all this extra work for the same money?”
Now, I have two options here. I’m leaving for home in a few hours. I can try to get the piece in working condition over the break and still maybe fail. Or, I can tell her I can’t do it and likely never get to pitch her again.
I decided not to do it.
There are two reactions to failure.
Which one you choose will determine how much work it’ll take you to succeed.
1. I Matter and You Suck
2. You Matter and I Suck
Number one is my initial reaction when someone lets me know I didn’t meet their expectations. My ego wants to protect itself, because I can’t matter if I suck.
So it throws the blame back at them. It says their expectations were wrong. My ego said my editor’s vision for the piece was bad. It says their expectations are unreasonable. I was mad she asked me to do extra work for the same money. Only one of us can matter to my ego. My ego says this conflict means one of us has to suck, and it’s gotta be her.
But then I remembered who she thinks she is. She’s an editor, with bosses of her own, who will be displeased if she doles out cash for shitty articles. Whether or not my article is shitty is beside the point. It’s not what she wants. It’s not something she’s happy to publish. I had a job to do, and it’s not to write something I want to publish. That’s what Sex and the State is for (sorry guys). It’s to write something she wants to publish. I’ve put her in a bad spot. She expected a story. I don’t have time to write it.
Number two is my secondary reaction. It says she matters. She has her own problems, and I’m one of them. And that is important. I’ve inconvenienced her, let her down. She deserves my empathy.
Number two requires tremendous amounts of self-esteem. Because it’s very difficult to look at your own failure and still believe you matter. I mean, I am only what I do for others. That’s the value I have to give to the world. If I’m putting out failure and disappointment, well, that’s not good is it?
The self-esteem comes from believing that I’m failing people less every day. That I’m not fixed. That today’s failure doesn’t mean I am a person who cannot be trusted, but a person who is learning how to set appropriate expectations and work hard to meet them.
I told her I couldn’t do it, and why. I tried not to be a princess. I noted that the apps were shitty, but also took full responsibility for not starting early enough to find good ones. I acknowledged my failure, apologized, and offered her the copy I’d written and told her to use it without paying me or giving me credit. I fully expected we’d never work together again, but I wanted her to at least not scrunch up her face if she ever thought of me.
I default to an all-or-nothing stance on self-esteem.
I rock or I suck. I’m either going to kill myself to get this piece in and rock or I’m going to not do it and suck.
But like most all-or-nothing stances, this one hides a beautiful middle ground.
Sex worker Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I’m not going to get that piece to my editor in a way she wants it by the time she wants it. I have little confidence in my ability to do it and it’s not worth it to me to try.
But I can still let her know that she matters. I can acknowledge the position I’m putting her in. I can offer what I do have to give her to make it better.
I can still matter, even though I failed, by letting her know she matters to me. I matter through failure by doing what I can to help other people feel like they matter to me.
Okay, one more anecdote and I’ll tie this baby into the headline.
This morning (it’s been a busy one, apparently) an “influencer” as we call them in the content marketing world, emailed me their answers so I could include them in a piece I’m writing for my job. This time, I’m working in the editor’s role. I need this person to meet my expectations so I can have something I can run for one of my work blogs.
This person had missed the deadline, told me they didn’t know what I was asking (though two other influencers had gotten it), and then asked me what my blog readership was before they’d be willing to answer.
I assumed with all that buildup, the resulting answers would be thorough and thought-out. They were the worst of the bunch.
Contrast that with another influencer. They got me their answers well ahead of deadline. The answers were thorough and high-quality.
Here’s the deal with that. I’m not going to name the first person and talk shit. But if you ask me about them, I’m not going to rave about their professionalism. And in the piece, their answers are going to go last. And they’re going to get a short bio.
Second person, however, is getting a long bio and links to their books. I will rant and rave about how awesome they are as often as I can. Their answers will go first.
The difference in their overall contribution to my blog post aside, what really gives me a bad taste in my mouth is that everything about my interaction with person two (except them getting me answers) left me feeling like I don’t matter to them. Obviously the first and best way to show me I matter to you is to meet or exceed expectations. But if you can’t or don’t want to, you can still indicate you care about me and my problems. In fact that might sometimes be more important to me than whatever work product I’m expecting.
I’m thinking about this because I have a goal to get 10k email subscribers by 2017. Which, according to a post in a Facebook group for female entrepreneurs I’m in, will require me to get “just” 28 new subscribers per day for the next year.
I can’t do that on my own. If I had unlimited funds I could probably advertise enough to make that goal, but I don’t. My funds are quite limited, so I’m going to need people to help me.
My talents are also limited. And fairly static. But what I can do to get people to help me is learn how to help people feel like they matter. I’m becoming a better writer, slowly but surely. But I can get way better, way faster, at being a nice person.
And it matters at least as much as funds and talent.
When I was younger, I thought the worst thing someone could say about me was that I wasn’t smart or I wasn’t talented. Now, I think the worst thing someone could say about me is that I don’t work hard or don’t treat people well.
What occurred to me today is that so much of what seems like luck is actually being a nice person coming back to help. There are so many little helps people can give me that I might not even notice or think about, like whether someone links to my book in my bio. I will never know whether speaking invites or interviews come not so much from my being a subject-matter expert (because I’m not), but from me making someone feel important.
I don’t need “luck” to succeed. If I put my little talent and little funds forward I’ll get there eventually before I die, probably. But it’ll be a LOT shorter and more fun getting there if I have it.
My editor just responded. No problem, she said. Feel free to work on it in January. Otherwise pitch us again in the New Year.
I’m a lucky bitch.