I am not one who generally looks back and reflects too much on my past mistakes. Well, I reflect upon them, but I don’t dwell on them. Admitting one’s professional mistakes, and coming to terms with them, is part of the evolutionary process of each of our careers.
When I started my company (Incursio, Inc.) in 2000 or so, I did so at potentially the worst conceivable time. The economy was beginning to go into a steep nosedive, tech companies were folding up like lawn chairs, and investors were beginning to shy away from tech-based startup companies. Given the market conditions, many of you might think that my big mistake was actually in starting the company to begin with!
Five years later, after selling the business, and after a million lessons-learned, I emerged from the ride brought on by my decision to plod forward. I realized that I had done surprisingly well, all things considered. But as I reflected back upon my journey, I realized that among the many mistakes that I made, one stood out among them all. This one, single action (or inaction, in this case), was nearly my downfall, and I hadn’t really realized it until afterwards. I failed myself in an almost unimaginable way.
I wish that the mistake I made were tangible. I wish I could blame someone … my head of sales failed to close enough deals, or perhaps my development team was too slow in bringing innovations to market. Unfortunately, life is rarely that simple. The mistake that I made was personal, which made it an even more painful realization to bear.
What was this mistake of which I speak? I failed to ask people for help. Yes, that’s right, Virginia. Instead of asking my professional network to help me be successful, I became fearful of the economy, and withdrew my resources and internalized my entire company. Granted, it got a little better as time went by, but early on, when things were the roughest, I unwittingly took the hard road. When I needed funding for our various ventures, I opened my own wallet. When we needed new servers for the data center, I built them myself. When code needed to be developed in a hurry, I pulled an all nighter. When we had to pitch to a key client, I was on a plane.
Everything we did right, we did right because I leveraged myself beyond belief, and worked 25 hours a day (a lot of people don’t realize this, but there are ways to squeeze an extra hour out of the work day). Passion goes a long way, folks.
But everything we did wrong, we did so because I failed to reach out to those people around me who were in a position to help me. I probably did more wrong than right, but in the end, I was lucky. But it could have taken a terrible turn at a moment’s notice. I often wonder what my own opportunity cost was by not asking others for help. How many other wonderful things could my company have done had I just had the courage to tap on others for assistance? I’ll never know.
But I do know this: I will never let it happen again.
I have always held the belief that you don’t discipline an employee for making a mistake. I only take action when I realize that they are not learning from their mistakes. I have learned from mine.