Change

The Honest Truth About My Biggest Failure (So Far!)

Have you ever had one of those times in life when you’re just on a roll? When everything seems to be going in your favor? Not that it’s all easy, but that it’s working – things are falling into place, and everything seems to be aligned.

 

Several years ago, I was flying high: I had started a small business that was growing successfully. I was winning awards and appearing in the newspaper. I felt important and respected. So important and respected, in fact, that another company approached me about acquiring us! Being asked to merge felt like a huge validation of our hard work, and as the leadership team sat down to discuss the potentially merger, we toasted ourselves and our success.

 

Within two months, we had made the decision to merge with the other company, and I moved our headquarters from my living room into their downtown offices. I traded in my daily yoga pants uniform for pencil skirts, and began my role at the new, larger organization.

 

I lasted there 9 months.

 

I had tears in my eyes as I handed in my letter of resignation. It was my shortest period of employment ever, made even more embarrassing by the fact that I was walking away from my own company, too, that was now a part of this larger company. A huge part of me didn’t want to do it, but I knew that I had to. I believed fully in the vision of the new organization, but it wasn’t a good match for me as an employee.

 

I had failed.

 

It was a failure not because the merger was a bad idea in the first place. The merger made sense. But in looking back, I realize I took the easy way out. I didn’t ask all the questions I should have. I got wooed by the money and the prestige. It’s not uncommon when one brand is larger and more established than the other: several months ago the merger between home technology companies Nest and Dropcam was revealed to have lots of uncomfortable tension that the two CEOs have gone on record saying they wish they had sorted out beforehand.

 

I take full responsibility for getting stars in my eyes about the promise of being acquired by a larger company. I didn’t do my due diligence, and I didn’t spend enough time thinking about what I was getting into. The good news is that the merger has paid off for several aspects of the organization I founded, and that was my first priority above everything else. But it wasn’t a great move for me, and I didn’t know it because I didn’t do my homework. It’s an embarrassing mistake for a founder to make.

 

No, I don’t regularly appear in the newspaper anymore, but when I handed in my resignation letter, I did take some time off to publish my first book. As with most things in life, the pendulum ends up swinging back and forth and evening things out in the long run. I do important work in different ways, now, and I’ve landed in places I might never have gotten.

 

So… have you ever had a failure that haunts you? What are your best ways for getting over it? I’d love some feedback for another blog post about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off after failure, so send me your stories!

 

What it Really Felt Like to Abandon My Dream (and How I Survived)

“I don’t want to do this anymore.”

 

The thought didn’t hit me all at once; it crept up on me over a few months, until it was right behind me, breathing its hot breath down my neck so I couldn’t ignore it anymore. For years I had been lugging my tap shoes and music books to class, running lines with a rehearsal partner late into the night. Taking voice lessons and ballet lessons and pushing my voice to hit a high belt, all in the hopes of one day taking center stage on Broadway.

 

The thought didn’t even hit me at a low point, as giving-up thoughts often do. On the contrary, I had enjoyed plenty of recent success. But the voice was still sneaking up on me that whole time, until one day I said out loud, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

 

I was only 21 years old, but as I said it out loud, I realized why I was finished: pursuing a career as an actress made me feel unimportant. Every single audition, I was surrounded by women who were prettier than I was, who could sing higher and kick higher. And even when I DID get the role, there was always this pervasive knowledge that if you said the wrong thing to someone in power, you would instantly be replaced by the line of 85 other women just like you who were waiting to take your role. I felt replaceable.

 

I turned to my roommate, my best friend, and said, “I want a job where people are glad I showed up. They don’t have to give me a standing ovation when I leave every night, but I want them to say, ‘Thank goodness YOU’RE here today. We couldn’t do this without you. I don’t feel that way about theatre.” She questioned me for the better part of an hour, testing my resolve and making sure I wasn’t just feeling low self-esteem. I finally said, “You know what, when I was a kid and thought I wanted this job, I thought being famous sand being important was the same thing. Now I know being famous and being important aren’t at all the same thing, and I just want to be important. Being famous doesn’t matter.”

 

I moved on to jobs where I felt important, and I WAS important. I solved problems others before me hadn’t solved. I earned praise and respect. But I still wasn’t immune to the shame of having given up on my dream. Years down the road, I received an out-of-the-blue email from an old friend high school friend  – a friend with whom I had once had a very kind relationship. “I’m so glad you decided to pursue a more traditional field,” she wrote. “I knew all along that it felt irresponsible and unrealistic to try to pursue a career in theatre, which is why I never wanted to do it professionally. I’m glad you finally realized that.” I pushed back from my computer as if her words were acid. I hadn’t given up on my dreams because they were unrealistic, I wanted to shout. I chose to leave the field! I could have made it if I had wanted to!

 

I wondered: did people think I had given up because it was too hard? Did they judge me for not being strong enough or willing to work hard enough? All those people – my parents included – who had supported my dreams… had I let them down?

 

I thought being famous sand being important was the same thing. Now I know being famous and being important aren’t at all the same thing, and I just want to be important.

 

I struggled over that email for two weeks. I wondered if I had chosen the wrong path year earlier, and if it was too late now. But smack dab in the middle of my existential shame crisis, I got the reminder my work was indeed important, when I was hired to be the spokesperson for a local nonprofit.

 

I’ll likely never be famous, in the way that 12-year-old Courtney planned to be. But I’m far more important than I ever imagined. In my work as a speaker and author on resilience, I have the good fortune to touch lives with my words. After one of my recent presentations, a woman left behind a note for me at the table where she had been sitting. “You made the struggle of becoming a mother at age 14 make sense in my life,” she wrote. I keep that note by my bedside, although it’s a bit smudged where my tears fell on it as I read it the first time.

 

Letting go of your dreams isn’t easy. It means coping with grief and loss. It can mean debt and financial struggle. It can mean redefining who you are and your place in the world. But changing your path can also mean achieving significance in a way you never imagined.

 

If you’re struggling with a dream that isn’t loving you back, ask yourself if you’re pursuing the correct goal. Has getting what you want become an obsession, rather than a passion? If you wouldn’t have to feel shame or guilt over “giving up,” would you have chosen a different path by now?

 

Pursuing significance over fame is the best decision I ever made. And I’ll never give up on that.

How to Help Children Cope with the Stress of Divorce

Divorcing parents have to address head-on the powerlessness and fear of change children feel. To help your children cope with the stress of divorce in a healthy way, here are a few things to try that will help them feel in control.

Have You Been Using the WRONG Resilience Technique?

Courtney’s new research suggests that not all resilience strategies work for all situations. If you’ve been using strategies you thought SHOULD work, but you’re still stressed, you’re going to want to check out “The Successful Struggle, to find out how to pick the right tool for whatever is challenging you.

What Does Resilience Have to do With Racism?

Yale University students this week held a “March of Resilience” in response to recent events dividing the school around racism and inclusion. The participating students, of all races, chanted statements of belonging and unity.

 

Seeing the title of the march got me thinking: what do resilience and racism have to do with one another? How do they intersect?

 

Living as a person of color and facing racism is undeniably a struggle. And all struggles require resilience to manage and overcome. While I am a white woman, my own son is a young black man, and I see firsthand the struggle he faces to achieve acceptance (and sometimes even safety) in our society. My son has shown the ultimate resilience in the moments when he has to attend class with his head held high less than five minutes after being handcuffed by police for questioning because he “looked like” a suspect in a campus computer theft.

 

I wonder, however, if “resilience” is the solution to overcoming racism that we should be focusing on. Resilience is a necessary tool for anyone who is oppressed, but resilience is a one-person job. Resilience is a way to cope after the fact.

 

So I am grateful that my son is resilient, but I wish he didn’t have to be.

 

Those who face racism – or oppression of any type – need to be resilient in order to keep moving forward and making change. The experience of racism can in fact even lead to a profound resilience that motivates and inspires transformation. But resilience is not the only solution to racism, particularly not on a large scale. To eradicate racism, we need more than resilience. We need legions of resilient people of all backgrounds marching for change.

 

-Courtney

The 3 People You Need When Times are Tough

When we talk about people who are strong and resilient to adversity, what often comes to mind is someone who possesses inner toughness. We picture someone who can single-handedly conquer anything the world throws at him.

 

But when it comes to surviving tough times, “single-handedly” is exactly the wrong way to do it. Resilience, it turns out, is a team sport. Research on coping suggests that some of the most successful techniques include leaning on other people.

 

When we manage our challenges by surrounding ourselves with others, we reap several benefits: the guidance and feedback of others, caring support, and perspective. Look for three kinds of people who can support you, to provide each of these three benefits.

 

When you need guidance and feedback, get support from someone in the know. If it’s a personal issue, maybe turn to a professional therapist. If it’s a professional issue, find a trusted mentor in the workplace. These people can offer suggestions for managing whatever struggle you are facing.

 

Sometimes we just need a person to say “I understand. I’m here for you.” That’s when you turn to friends and family for caring support. Finally, it can really help to get perspective on an issue. For that, turn to someone who has walked in your shoes, or who currently IS in your shoes. When you lean on one another, you find the perspective to realize you aren’t the only one struggling.

 

Resilience is a team sport, not a solitary activity. When you lean on others in a tough time, you get three main benefits that help you bounce back. Find your tribe, your support network, and lean on them. It doesn’t make you weak, it actually helps you deal with the situation faster. And that’s what real strength looks like!

 

-Courtney

Who Handles Job Stress Better – Older Employees or Younger Ones?

No matter what your occupation, work can be stressful. There are deadlines, clients, policies and procedures, management changes, layoffs… there’s always the potential for something stressful and frustrating to sidetrack your productivity.

 

We’re all stressed at work from time to time! Will it always be that way? Will it get worse? Do we get more stressed at work as we get older?

 

Studies have shown that as we age, we actually get less stressed out about our work. The older we are, the better our attitudes about our jobs become, at least for most of us. We also are more likely to experience positive thinking on the job, and solve frustrating problems more quickly. Researchers believe that much of this is related to experience. The more experience we have on the job, the more we can put our frustrations into perspective, and the more quickly we can deal with them positively and confidently.

 

Another reason workers over age 35 appear to have less stress is that we tend to master the concept of work-life balance the older we get. When we’re early in our careers, work-life balance can be a frustrating challenge. We always seem to be getting it wrong, particularly as we add the demands of new parenthood (and its accompanying guilt!) on to the challenges of our jobs. Studies show that as we age, we seem to find it easier to strike the balance that works for us.

 

Finally, employees who have been on the job longer seem to have more realistic expectations of what their companies will do for them, and what they expect from them in return. As we stay in our jobs longer, we gain a better understanding of the implied contract between our employers and ourselves, whereas younger employees tend to get more frustrated if they believe an unspoken promise is being breached.

 

Not all career paths, however, get less stressful the older we get. Nurses, in particular, seem to get more stressed the longer they remain in their careers. It seems relevant that nurses also reported feeling less job security as they got older, while many of the other careers, like service sector workers and teachers, reported feeling more secure in their jobs the longer they were there.

 

In fact, job security is the one area in which young employees beat employees over 35 as it relates to stress. Overall, younger employees in most fields felt very secure in their position, which is one major stressor removed from them. So there are many benefits but one significant drawback when it comes to work stress as we get older.

 

If you’re under 35, here’s what can you do to be less stressed now:

 

  • Find a work-life balance that works for YOU. There is no universal magic formula for being a good parent and a good employee.
  • Learn what coping skills work best for you, so you can overcome stress more quickly.
  • Approach your work with realistic expectations about what the company and you “owe” one another.

 

If you are over 35, here’s what can you do to be less stressed as you age:

 

  • Take as much control as you can over your job security by being a workplace leader and mentor, staying innovative, remaining up-to-date with technology, and continuing to build on your responsibilities.
  • At the same time, boost your confidence that you would survive a potential job hunt by getting involved now in professional associations, staying up-to-date on certifications and research in your field, and continually networking, both in-person and online.

 

Whatever your job and whatever your age, you are likely to experience job stress. But there are ways to manage it, and it seems to get easier the older you get.

 

-Courtney

3 Ways to Know It’s Time to Move On

When something isn’t working, you don’t have to give up. But you DO have to TRADE up. Here are three ways to know it’s time to move on and trade up.

Are You Bringing the Drama? Or Coping With Drama?

There’s a fine line between coping with drama and being the one BRINGING the drama. These three warning signs will help you determine if you’re adding drama to a situation, and get you to stop piling it on.

There’s a Wrong Way To Solve Problems, and It’s Causing You Work Stress

Not all problem-solving is good problem-solving. If you or your workplace keep solving problems the wrong way, it’s adding to your workplace stress, making it more likely you’ll burn out. Learn how to solve problems the right way and things will go more smoothly at work.