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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