Like you, I have a checkered past. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I was fired twice, scolded for many mistakes in previous jobs, and been told that my personality is combative.
And I failed to kept my word on one major occasion.

I really don’t want to share this. Even as I write, my brain says, “No! Don’t tell them you’re a failure! Don’t tell them this major mistake! What if you’re current employer finds out? What if all your friends find out?”

I hate living in fear, don’t you? I’m tired of secret mistakes that eat away at my integrity.

I’m sharing with you my epic fail so you can learn from it and avoid the same mistake.

A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether. -Roy H. Williams

Let me give you a bit of background. In January 2013 I interviewed for post-graduate training positions. This position is a one year commitment. I choose to interview for these positions because it could provide a competitive advantage for the job market.

These positions are similar to medical residencies that doctors must experience. Candidates interview and rank the hospitals according to their preferences. Hospitals rank the candidates that interview according their preferences. This preferences are entered a national database that pairs candidates with hospitals. This is called the “Match”. A candidate is (somewhat) randomly bound to a hospital for one year.
I apologize if that didn’t make sense…it still doesn’t make sense to me

I became bound to a contract once I “locked” in my preferences. I failed to realize the seriousness of the contract at the time.

The process is more complicated than that, but you need to understand the process.

So around March, a few unfortunate events happened.

1) My wife developed severe depression and experienced frequent anxiety attacks. These began in January but became worse in March.
2) My wife and I believed she was pregnant. Which wasn’t unfortunate, it just wasn’t timely. (She is no longer pregnant. We don’t know what happened)

My home life turned upside down.
I concluded that I couldn’t meet the demands of a residency (+60 hours/week) and be a good husband and father.

I did what I thought I had to do. The hardest call I ever made in my life.

I called each residency position I interviewed for and asked to be released from the contract. I was breaking my word.

Two programs responded with understanding.
One did not. They couldn’t believe I decided this. The director was extremely offended.

I matched with the program that was not happy with my decision.

Never in my life have I felt so awful. I felt like a failure.

I believed this mistake would determine the rest of my career. I would worry myself to sleep for nearly a week.

My brain repeated this message over and over, “Pharmacy is a small world, Alex. Now that they hate you, everyone in Michigan will hear about your blunder. You will have no other possibilities. You can never work in that area. They will bad mouth you and everyone will know.”

I didn’t keep my word. I broke the contract. Filling out the release paper work made me sick.

Luckily, this wasn’t the end of Alex Barker. I was offered a position for a job that pays almost 3x the residency position that I declined!

Here are six lessons I learned from breaking my word.

1) Understand your situation before you dive head first
The warning signs of depression crept in December and January. My wife began the slow sink into depression for no apparent reason.

We don’t know why she experienced anxiety attacks.
Life was awesome. We have a loving relationship and amazing daughter. My job was a little depressing, but I was making the most of it.

Thoroughly examine your life before you jump into a new job, home or life situation. Watch for “red flags”. My father taught me to look for warning signs when making decisions.

My wife developing depression was a red flag.

2) When you know you can’t keep a commitment, be proactive
I could have waited till the last minute to ask for a release from the program. But I was proactive and asked before the results came out.

I warned them so that they could start searching another candidate. I can only imagine how they would feel if I waited till the last minute.

3) Be as apologetic as possible
I apologized so many times. Emails, phone conversations, I even sent a handwritten apology letter fully explaining the situation. I never received a response.

Once you apologize, you can’t demand someone to forgive you. Forgiveness doesn’t work like that.

While it hurts to know that they likely won’t forgive me, I stand proud to know that I did what was best for my family.

4) Learn and move on
I am a fool who makes the same mistakes. It’s hard to fix me.
I seem to always misplace my keys. But I will never make this mistake again.

When you make a mistake that affects your self-worth, like losing a job, learn from what happened. Place the event in a positive light and move on.

Fear is so good at throwing you in an endless cycle. “Now that you said no, no one will hire you.” Then it says, “People will find out who you really are at your job. They’ll expose you. You’ll be embarrassed at your new job and have to quit! You might as well quit and go for another job.”

Move on my friend.

5) Forgive yourself

This is difficult if you’ve never tried. Say to yourself, “Joe, I forgive you for making this mistake.”

Forgiveness allows a sense of freedom. Forgiveness is like the error was wiped away and no longer remains.

Two weeks after my fiasco, my wife urged me to forgive myself. It went something like this,

“Alex, I know you made a mistake. You gave your word and broke it. Everyone has done this. That doesn’t make it right, but I forgive you. There’s no more need to feel guilty about it. Pick yourself up and be awesome.”

I cried. I never felt such freedom. Feelings of peace spring up even as I write this.

6) Share and don’t care
I wrote this post with the hopes that one day, someone else who’s made an awful mistake can read this and feel freedom.

Sharing your mistakes takes away power from guilt. Why? Because everyone can relate.
Everyone breaks promises. I shared this mistake with a few friends. Everyone was supportive. They reaffirmed my humanity. I learned I am allowed to make mistakes. However, that doesn’t exempt me from consequences.

I urge you to share your mistake if you feel guilty about your past. Be transparent with your family, friends, coworkers.
People may respect you when you expose your mistake or take credit for a blunder.
Why? because you have the courage they don’t have.

What have you learned from past mistakes? Have you committed a “fatal” flaw in your career? What did you learn?

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About the Author Alex

Jon D Harrison says July 22, 2013

Alex – thanks for sharing this story – I have learned that when I share my failures, two things happen
1. Others are encouraged. They see we are all human and share very human flaws and struggles.
2. I learn from the mistake like crazy – especially when discussing with others, we all can become more effective in handling future slips, allowing us to “Fail Forward” (As John Maxwell would say).

    Alex Barker says July 23, 2013

    Your first point seems like it was prophesied! Many people commented the word “encourage”. Interesting 🙂

Christa Sterken says July 22, 2013

Interesting perspective. I read your story and instead of seeing “mistake”, I see a man who made a wise choice. Proactively putting his family first at great professional risk. That is a rare thing and I applaud you

    Alex Barker says July 23, 2013

    Thanks Christa. I’m humbled by your kind words.

Lucie says July 22, 2013

What wise words from your wife. Thank you for having the courage to share this – someone else may have needed to hear just these words, and will be helped by your openness. As someone who has struggled with depression (and anxiety) for about two-thirds of their life, my heart goes out to your wife. I hope she is doing better by now. And I hope that you have truly forgiven yourself…it seems to me that you made the best decision you could under difficult circumstances, and don’t deserve to beat yourself up quite so much. 🙂

    Alex Barker says July 23, 2013

    THank you Lucie. My wife and I so appreciate your kind words.
    Yes, I’ve moved on and forgiven myself. It’s been hard, but I moved to my new job and that helped seal the coffin on this story.

sara choe says July 22, 2013

read this via jeff goins. i echo others in thanking you for the courage you took to write this despite your fear. 🙂

    Alex Barker says July 23, 2013

    Sara, Did Jeff tweet my post? If so….chicka what what??!

    Thanks for the encouragement!

      sara choe says July 23, 2013

      i think it was facebook.

Shelley DuPont says July 22, 2013

Learning just how much you can handle before your world falls apart is major. We get so used to climbing the career ladder, we often don’t notice when the rungs weaken. I’ve had some major failures in my life, in the last 10 year. I probably need to write about it. Failure redirects our path.

    Alex Barker says July 23, 2013

    Thanks Shelley! How has a failure in your past redirected you?

Allan Dubon says July 22, 2013


Holy crap dude! Let me tell you how much I am inspired by this. You and I have talked about how crazy our lives are, but man I had no idea. I want to thank you for being so transparent, this is so inspiring. I know when you wrote this you probably didn’t think it would have the effect that is has on people.

I remember when I walked away from my lifelong dream of going to medical school. It was a scary choice, but it was the best choice for my family. Thank you for sharing your story, your struggles, and your successes. Thanks for being such an inspiration.

    Alex Barker says July 23, 2013

    Crazy lives lead to crazy success 🙂
    Allan, I don’t think you realize how much you motivate me to try harder and lead with excellence.
    It’s good to know others have made choices based on family over one’s career. I’m sure you’re not regreting that decision!

Dianne Drinkard says July 23, 2013

Wow, great post Alex! Remember, we all make mistakes, but you handled it just fine! Remember this: Those who succeed the most are merely those who have failed the most! They are those who took risks, and got up from mistakes to flourish! We all feel bad about our mistakes, but time is the only thing you cannot redeem, and time wasted dwelling on mistakes, as opposed to evaluating them and learning the lesson and then moving on, cannot ever be reclaimed! You are now on the path, congrats Alex!

    Alex Barker says July 23, 2013

    Thanks Dianne! Good to hear from you again. I agree that we should not waste time with dwelling on past failures. It doesn’t help you and it usually makes you feel like crap

Alex Barker says July 23, 2013

Thanks Becky, I appreciate the outside perspective. I have to say that at the time, it felt like the WORST mistake in my life.
Now, I’ve moved on to greater things 🙂

bodezzz says July 28, 2013

This sounds like life, you can’t possible predict everything. Sometimes you have to put on the brakes and re-evaluate. You made the right decision.


    Alex Barker says July 28, 2013

    Thanks Bodie. Everyone has been so reaffirming. I really appreciate the support.

portofpeace says August 3, 2013

This is on point. I love the openness. I see mistakes as lessons.

ATerribleHusband says August 16, 2013

Ouch. But looks like you were both better off. And as long as you did it with the right intentions you can hold your head high, my friend.

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