I Just Effed Up

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Not a week goes by without receiving an email that says, “I just fucked up.”

Sometimes it’s from regular workers. Sometimes it’s from VPs of HR, which is always amusing to me because there but for the Grace of God go I.

The most frequently asked question in those emails is this.

How do people come back from this?

Well, sometimes they don’t. The ones who do have two qualities going for them: humility and the ability to tell a good story.

Anyone can recognize a mistake. Alcoholics and single mothers do it all day long. The key is to make sure you never make the same mistake twice. Humility helps. In fact,  it’s essential. Recognize you made a mistake and try to do better for the rest of your life. That’s it.

And just because you fucked up doesn’t mean you have to tell anyone you fucked up. Get fired? Drink too much? Burn down Adre Rison’s house? Ooops. Nobody knows unless you tell them or you get caught. And nobody needs to know your personal narrative, either.

For those who have been fired and want to move forward, you don’t even need to disclose that. Really. You can say, “My company went through a change and they didn’t have a role for me.”

In 99% of employment situations where people get fired, that can be true. The question is — can you make it true? Can you tell a convincing story in fewer than twenty words so they stop asking questions?

Lots of people will advise you to say, “I made a few mistakes. This is what they are. [Insert list.] This is what I learned. [Insert list.]”

I think that is a dumb strategy. I’m not a big fan of liars, but I know that I’ve never hired anyone who admitted to being fired. The less you say, the better. Most organizations only verify name/job title/previous salary in pre-employment background checks. Maybe not even that.

If the choice is between getting a job or getting bounced in the final round of an interview process, I think it’s okay to tell a more flattering story as long as you have some self-awareness and you won’t make the same mistake twice. Just focus on the task at hand and move forward with humility.

But if you do make the same mistake twice, send me an email. We can laugh about it. Just don’t burn down any houses.

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