I am, and always have been, a fuck up. Ask anyone that has known me for more than five years and they will vouch for this. There are kids that learn how to swim by taking lessons, practicing in the shallow end, and then, when they are ready, make their way out to deeper waters confident they can stay afloat. There are also kids that see someone make a high dive one time on tv, run onto the diving board and face plant their first time in the water. I'm one of the latter, and though it's taken me nearly thirty years to get here, I'm okay with admitting it in mixed company.
The media makes this disposition seem quite glamorous, and people think it's exciting. The STNG Qs(my favorite), Dr Gregory Houses, Shawn Spencers and Junos. History has many we look up to, Oscar Wilde, Douglas Adams, George Carlin, Voltaire, Feynmen, Adams. In reality, for as many make it into the public eye, there are 50 more in desperate circumstance. We are the drug addicts, the desk throwers, the dysfunctional, unemployable, and homeless.
There is one trait, and besides the many good people that surround me it is the only thing that has kept me away from succumbing to the dangers of my temperament. That trait is the ability to forgive myself, even when it seems unbearable.
Very often, I do things that are extremely stupid. I think no matter what our personality type that happens to us every so often. I make a bad call when designing a product that hindsight shows me from a mile away, I put off a client with a sloppy email or a poor follow up, I miscalculate my monthly income in an astronomical way, or I drop my iPhone 4 on cement while running down the street in heels (for absolutely no good reason besides being dared or trying to catch an ice cream truck). Things like this used to cause me much pain, and stop me in my tracks unable to go forward from the shame I felt and the voice in my head telling me I should have known so much better. There would be absolutely no forward progress while I berated myself, sometimes looking in the mirror and asking repeatedly how it was possible for one person to be so stupid.
Time and experience taught me that if I kept up that type of behavior it not only would retard my progress it would endanger my ability to run my business and follow my career goals. I've learned to forgive myself no matter how spectacularly I fail, and that has enabled me to accomplish things and get to places that only existed in my wildest dreams of the future.
Many tout the benefits of "getting over it" and "moving on", however, I think the only way to describe this process is forgiveness. You are angry at yourself, for hurting yourself; just as you would be angry at someone else for hurting you. You let yourself down, you should have known better, and you were inconsiderate of your own needs, yet again. If we can't get past these emotions of guilt, anxiety, and discomfort we can't look back and gain what we can use from the experience.
The ability to fail intelligently is something I constantly strive for. In order to get to that point, you must be able to quickly regroup and do a post-mortem of your behavior, actions, and decisions. You need to be able to look yourself straight in the eye and say, "how is this going to go better next time?" You can't be afraid of a next time, you need to plan on it. To look intimidation in the face, and not be afraid to be an embarrassment to yourself all over again.
I found this excellent post by Rand Fishkin this week that illustrated how valuable this is, not only to yourself, in this case also to many others. The CEO of Seomoz, a Seattle based startup, shared his experience with going after funding and subsequently failing. His detailed analysis of his experience tells me that this isn't the first time he's tried something and not attained his goals (imagine?). Sharing his decisions, the actions at his company, the outcome and perceived consequences not only benefits him should he revisit this world again, it helps all of us who go down that road to understand more about what it means to succeed, and possible roads to failure.
It is very easy to talk about forgiveness, but many people are locked in a world where they cannot accept anything but perfection. Being a good software developer, product manager, computer engineer, or ice cream truck operator (for that matter) means being able to reflect on what you have done poorly and live your life in iterations. Because being good at something means never being perfect, it means seeing where you've done poorly and never doing it again because you care about, not only your work-product, but also yourself.