The shadow of past failure

It was such a treat speaking to a live audience this week at City law firm Sidley Austin LLP. Oh the real eye contact! The collective energy in the room! This was the launch event for their Proud To Be… series celebrating Black History Month. My keynote was, of course, “Proud To Be An Imposter”. I loved every minute of the Q&A that followed, led by always impressive partner Fatema Orjela (pictured). Hope you have been enjoying some real eye contact and collective energy in your workplace too this week.

Caroline and Fatema Orjela

Are you being haunted by a past failure?

One of my clients is. She is still beating herself up over the result she got in her degree – nearly 20 years ago. All these years later she still feels shame over it. She still thinks she let people down and is convinced she should have done better.

Feeling disappointed with a result is something we all experience. The problem for my client is that her disappointment over the past keeps showing up in her present. It’s telling her she’s not good enough. It’s warning her she may fail again. Every time she has to make a decision or perform a task, it takes her to the worst case scenario of what will happen if she gets it wrong, causing her to feel permanently anxious and stressed.

This is no way to work.
This is no way to show up to a high pressure job.
This is no way to sustain a career.

If a past failure is still casting a shadow over your life, it’s time to take a look at what’s going on. Being haunted by the shadow of past failure is one of the secret signs of Imposter Syndrome that is causing you to overthink and overwork and is stopping you from performing as well as you could. This is not what failure is supposed to do.

I’ve had my share of failures and disappointments. But they don’t haunt me, they teach me – a better way of working. A more effective way to show up. Most importantly, I use my past failures to build my present belief.

To achieve this I go to step 4 of my Imposter Speech. It helps me process how I reacted, got through it or bounced back from it, and then it shows me how to shape it into a powerful backstory that reminds me who I am:

  • I am resourceful
  • I am resilient
  • I have been here before
  • I know how to do hard things
  • I am exactly where I am supposed to be

Past failures shouldn’t haunt you, they should evolve you. When you process them correctly they don’t undermine your self belief, they build it.

It’s a much better way to work.

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