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Last week, I met with a friend who’s an investment advisor. Sometimes, if I tell him about a stock, or a mutual fund, or an ETF I’m considering, he’ll share what he knows about the people managing the money. I’d chosen an ETF carefully, looked at the advisors and their track record, considered the market for this particular ETF, which focuses on emerging markets, and was trying to get a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.”

Here’s what he reminded me:

“Past performance is not an indicator of future performance.”

Instead of looking at how the investment had peformed historically, I had to switch my view from the rear view mirror to looking out the front window.

It’s often the same with when you’re considering work you love. Instead of beating yourself up about the things that didn’t work out so well in your career, the risks you’ve taken that turned out less than successfully, I want to remind you to avoid using past performance to predict your future.

As an example, let’s look at my client, Ben (I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy). Ben came to me after a 10-year career as a product manager, always for companies with highly artisanal, beautifully crafted products. He went into that work because he’d failed as an artist. He made so little money that he was forced to move back in with his family.

As we worked together to sense his next work, we looked at what maximized his ROLE, his Return On Life Energy. It wasn’t writing product plans. It wasn’t developing promotional literature. It wasn’t creating the outline for the next trade show. No, it was making art. He didn’t do it very much anymore, but when he did, Ben came alive. During the course of our work, he hand-fired an ornate clay vase, took pictures, and sent them to me.

“Do you like the color? How’s the shape?” Ben asked, like a puppy dog wagging it’s tail, begging for affection.

Despite adoring his work, I refrained from heaping compliments on him. The attention belonged on him. “Ben, how was it to make the vase?”

I was drawn into Ben’s story, the step-by-step love and attention he put into the clay upon the potter’s wheel, his selection of the color, his estimation of the perfect amount of time to leave the vase in the kiln.

“So, what do you realize from all of this, Ben?” I inquired.

“I want to be an artist.”

And then, a long pause.

“But I failed at it before. It will never work. Crap! Now, what am I supposed to do?”

Ben was looking in the rear-view mirror.

We talked at length about what went wrong in his previous artistic forays. Essentially, he’d not really considered his cash flow, so he wound up with insufficient funds. In particular, he’d made 25 very large format pieces that were to be hung on the wall of a large law firm. But a week before the items were to be delivered, the law firm backed out.

With no contract in place, only a gentleman’s handshake agreement, Ben was left with 25 pieces of pottery that’d he’d funded, and no one to buy them.

Ben had a cash flow issue on his hands. No one had taught him how to plan for that. He didn’t learn that in art school. His parents, who were teachers, could not have warned him to watch his money.

I asked Ben to spend a weekend at any artist’s event he could think of. He immersed himself in a workshop on glazing. Funny, but he came back from it with a huge glow. He wanted to be an artist.

And now, he is. He sought help from the Small Business Administration to learn how to manage cash flow. He worked with a bookkeeper to set up an online accounting system. He took classes in marketing for artists. This has all added up to a thriving business. He got there by doing some contract work in product management while he was ramping up his art business, and now, the art accounts for nearly 100% of his income.

Action Cure: If you’ve “failed” at something before, ask yourself: “What’s the lesson in this failure?”

* What skills could you acquire to boost your abilities?
* What mentorship might you secure?
* Who might be a good confidante for you?
* How might you transform any negative self-beliefs that are holding you back?

If you’re at a point where you’re looking longingly at work you’ve tried before, but somehow not succeeded, you don’t need to suffer. I’d love to help you. You’re welcome to reach out to me for career reinvention coaching. Or at least talk to someone, like a good friend or a therapist. Get a new perspective.

When you clean off the front window, you’ll have a new view on your future career.

Seeing you clearly,

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Category : Becoming more aware / Changing your mind / Inspire yourself / Meaningful work / Sharing my personal journey

2 Responses to “I can’t do the work I love, because I’ve failed at it before (part 5 of 7)”


Renee May 23, 2012

This is exactly my problem. Not that I’ve exactly failed at it (depending on your definition… I’m not doing it full time which is a failure) but rather, I get work and it’s not what the client wants so they change it and then it doesn’t work (I’m a copywriter) so I get blamed and cop the criticism.

    SusanB May 23, 2012

    Hey Renee: Just a thought here…I invite you to notice how you’re defining “failure” and the thought that you’re getting blamed. How can you shift your attitude so that things are more neutral, rather than you being at the mercy of the client? Your energy in this matters! : )