Failing forward: Analyzing the aftermath

When you fail at something, you have a few choices and it’s perfectly natural to want to spend time doing a bit of each.

  • Dwell and be miserable; where’s the ice cream?
  • Move on; pretend it never happened
  • Move on, but harvest any useful bits of knowledge from the experience

The fact of the matter is that when we fail, we still gain something no matter how painful the failure was. Failure provides an opportunity to grow, and awakens a mental “trigger” that helps us avoid failing in the same way twice.

In my book Rise of the Advocates, I detail a story from my first job working at Dairy Queen. I was making my first banana split for a customer and it was beautiful. I was so proud of it, and honored that my supervisor let me even attempt such an intricate treat.

When I handed the masterpiece to the customer waiting in his car, he immediately held it up to the car’s dome light and asked, “Where’s the banana?” I had forgotten the banana – in the banana split.

It’s a mistake I didn’t make twice, and a failure that taught me to review instructions before starting, double-check my work, and even to ask for help when attempting something new. And while this is a low-risk, nearly harmless failure, the process of response and growth is the same as high-risk failures.

It can be difficult to immediately look upon any failure with even a remote sense of gratitude. In these times it’s helpful to remember you’re not at the end, but just somewhere along the way. A colleague of mine whom I respect, Ava, has a helpful quote tacked to her bulletin board that reads, “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”

So when you’re ready, analyze your failure in search of those valuable moments along the road that will ultimately help get you to that beautiful destination.

Here are some things to consider after failing:

  • Who helped you along the way? Say thanks for that reference or advice. They didn’t support you because you asked, but because you deserved it and they believed in you.
  • If someone asked for your assistance in achieving the same goal at which you just failed, what advice would you now give them? What surprised you about the process, or reactions (or lack thereof) from others?
  • Don’t worry about how the failure reflects on you. To me, and many others, failure looks like you tried to do something great and you will undoubtedly accomplish great things soon.
  • It may be easy to give up. But giving up doesn’t pay as well as trying again.
  • Sometimes trying again means trying something new or different than you first attempted. Failure is an opportunity to pivot.
  • Don’t do anything in response to failure that could hurt your chances at a similar opportunity in the future. Build bridges, don’t burn them. When someone has to close a door, thank them for the experience and before you know it that same someone might be opening that same door and will remember your grace and kindness from before.
  • You have a finite amount of energy each day. Decide now how much you’ll reserve for mourning and how much you’ll direct toward actively pursuing your next target.
  • You don’t have to live up to others’ expectations. Your competitive drive should be only you against yourself. Be greater today than you were yesterday. Let others have their expectations – it’s their energy to do with as they please.
  • Self-care is important. Be careful with your thoughts, as they become actions. If you believe you’re great, you’ll try again. If you believe you’re worthless, you won’t. This can be difficult, but know that you’re not alone and many people who make it look easy were there once too.
  • Your network should empower you, and inspire you. If it’s discouraging you or bringing you down, it’s time to start unfollowing and disconnecting from your energy vampires. Stay connected to people who will push you farther than you ever imagined.
  • Some people want you to fail (or are indifferent). It could be insecurity, jealousy, laziness (not doing their part) or any number of issues but the issues are with them not you. While unfortunate that people in power can use it to hold you down or sabotage your chances, it’s important that you’re aware of these bad apples and can attempt to circumvent them when at all possible. If you must interact with them, interact with them publicly or in group settings so others can witness any unfair or dismissive behaviors. Or if you’re in a position to replace a bad performer, make the leap and replace them.
  • Even when you fail, there’s a lesson to be learned. Are there skills you can develop? Connections you can make? A degree or certification you could pursue? What action would make you more competitive or likely to succeed next time?
  • What actions did you take that didn’t work out so well? What would you do differently? But also what really worked? What triggered a great response and can be replicated next time around?
  • What is at the core of your goal? Is it truly getting that specific position or creating a thriving user group? Or maybe it’s getting a foot in the door at a specific company, or building a strong community? Try to identify what you’re truly after and check in with yourself from time to time to make sure the actions you’re taking are getting you closer to that core.

Remember that we often climb the ladder to our destination more quickly with assistance from those with whom we surround ourselves. Are people in your immediate circle holding you down or pushing you upward? Have you made contact with professionals in a position of power or influence that might be able to recommend or endorse you? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Try to follow people who are doing something similar to what you want to be doing. Learn from them and their own mistakes. Get to know their secret to success, and what support systems they have built. If nobody is doing what you’re doing, consider yourself a pioneer. Expect an adventure ahead, and be sure to always seek the growth opportunities from failures along the way to make your destination that much more sweet. Someday, and possibly already today, people will consider you a mentor and hope to learn from your successes (and failures).

If you failed, that means you tried. Keep trying, fail when necessary, and ultimately you’ll succeed. The path to your destination won’t always be a straight road and I’ll be here cheering you on around the corners, knowing you’ll make it to your destination soon.

I am an MVP (and so can you!)

A little context

Once upon a time (2 months ago) I had decided to stop pursuing the MVP award. There were a few issues in the process and related communication that were bugging me and made the experience more of a chore than a valued credential. So I withdrew my nomination.

After posting that I received a lot of feedback through public and private channels. Many had a similar experience, some were supportive regardless of my choice, and others disconnected/disappeared or outright let me know I was making a mistake and had brought shame upon their ancestors. Here are GIFs illustrating the general feedback (because GIFs are more fun than the reality):

Some were supportive

From Frozen
From Broad City

Others, less so

So to those of you who had my back, thank you. And to those who didn’t, thanks for the true colors demo.

What’s a credential, anyway?

The thing about any credential is you don’t stop being yourself once you obtain it. When you get a promotion, you shouldn’t shun the people “left behind” or change your personality. But some do anyway. To them, it’s all about their journey and checking off boxes. To others, it’s about achieving something challenging and using that experience and newfound platform to help others up the slope.

When you rise in an organization or obtain a new credential it is, rather, a responsibility of yours to help elevate and develop others. This is what separates great leaders from the rest. Your actions, when credentialed, are also more heavily scrutinized. Do you use your credential selfishly (to promote yourself) or to influence change and build the community?

To poor leaders, growth is all about THEIR journey on their way to better things. To effective leaders, growth is about achieving something challenging and then using that experience and newfound platform to help others up the slope. Click To Tweet

So what’s your legacy? Were you a community builder who made the organization better? Or did you just make sure it didn’t collapse and kept it as it was?

Community Builder

Actively works within and outside the community to make it better by pushing for positive change and helping to introduce new members to the community. Possesses a growth mindset.

Community Supporter

Actively works within the community to maintain success by featuring its own members and initiatives and focusing on the member experience. Possesses a maintenance mindset.

Yes, yes, but what can I actually do?

If the MVP award sits on your desk, let it be a daily reminder that there are hundreds who are seeking that same recognition you received. What are you doing to provide opportunities for those others to shine in your arenas?

  • Run a user group? Reach out to a non-MVP and ask if they’d like to speak.
  • Organizing a conference? Include non-MVPs
  • Have a podcast? Interview a non-MVP
  • Are you a speaker? Share your talents with non-MVP organized events and groups
  • Celebrate the contributions of and interact with non-MVPs on social media

Your promotional materials that say “90% of our speakers are MVPs!” certainly demonstrate how much talent you’re featuring at the event. But those 10% that aren’t MVPs don’t feel included in your marketing plan and, by extension, feel they may have just been filler material.

You can always list “MVP” after the speakers’ names in your listings and let potential registrants do the math themselves. I’d be more inclined to attend a conference where I knew I’d be engaging with speakers who:

  • Started their own company
  • Wrote a book
  • Participates in diversity initiatives
  • Run a podcast I listen to (or might start)
  • Own the blogs or YouTube channels I frequent

Consider celebrating the accomplishments of your entire speaker group, MVPs and non-MVPs alike. If they’re good enough to have at your event then they’re good enough to recognize equally.

“Our speaker lineup includes 10 published authors, 5 CEOs, and 14 active bloggers!” These quantifiable numbers tell a more specific story that others can relate to. Maybe a potential registrant is starting their own blog and would see this as a good opportunity to speak to someone who could help. And the speakers would probably appreciate the additional, specific exposure to their individual accomplishments and contributions.

What I’m saying (as I’m sure you’ve guessed) is that you can be President but that doesn’t necessarily make you a good one.

From Miranda

My next objective

All of this to say, I welcome a new challenge and opportunity into my life today:

I was fortunate to have Jon Levesque, Betsy Weber, and Christian Talavera who each acknowledged my post and took time out of their busy agendas to reach out and talk with me. I consider each of them to be exceptional leaders that not only listen to concerns, but really hear them. I felt that they really wanted to make positive change and improve the program.

Other leaders could have shrugged off my comments and left me to my own devices. But that’s what made these three community builders instead of just community supporters. After talking with them, I learned that some positive change has occurred since I withdrew my nomination and shared my post.

  • The application has some new questions that make it more personal and goal-oriented as much as accomplishment focused
  • Timelines have shifted so that there’s more accountability to those responsible for voting and firmer deadlines to make sure a backlog doesn’t happen
  • Notifications and follow-up will be more standardized with applicants, making sure those anxiously awaiting any news are aware of their current status and know who to contact with questions

My objective is to practice what I’ve preached here. I intend to:

  • Use the credential as a reminder to lift up others so that they too may experience the joy of recognition for their efforts
  • Do what I can to make the program better and improve the nominee experience
  • Continue blogging and speaking to share freely what I’ve learned along the way
  • Continue organizing LSPUG and SPL Scholarships
  • Continue co-organizing SPSKC with Sharon and Jonathan Weaver
  • Continue popping up at events and user groups to share the SP word

With a little help from my friends

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank a few people who kept me motivated and inspired throughout this three year journey. My heartfelt thanks to:

  • Greg Swart who first showed Mike and I the wonders of SharePoint in practice.
  • Dave Peterson and the organizing committee of SPS Omaha for taking a chance on me a few years ago and giving me my first SPS speaking gig.
  • Mike Broadwell and Mary Roach, my bosses while at KU Libraries, who approved my funding request to speak at some non-library conference in Omaha and then continually supported me as I learned and grew in SharePoint and O365.
  • Sharon and Jonathan Weaver who welcomed me to the organizing committee of SPS KC and who have been great partners and friends in our LSPUG and Kansas City O365 UG adventures.
  • Starla Jones and Michael Williams, my bosses at LMH Health, who support me today by entertaining my wild ideas about modern collaboration and organizational communication and who encourage me to keep learning.
  • Tim Canaday, my systems counterpart of LMH Health, whose seemingly infinite wisdom of all things server and structure (and patience when my ideas come faster than my rationality) inspires me to learn things I hadn’t dreamt of learning before and achieve things together I certainly couldn’t do alone.
  • Mark Rackley and the organizing committee of the North American Collaboration Summit for inviting me to speak at my first national, non-SPS conference. Thanks for believing in my value before I had an MVP credential.
  • All of the SPS organizing committees, professors, and user group owners who have welcomed me to speak at their events and classes. I’ve enjoyed Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Omaha, St. Louis, Kansas City (of course), and Denver and am looking forward to upcoming events wherever they may lead me.
  • All of the many speakers who have volunteered their time to share with LSPUG, a small but might user group in the heart of the country.
  • Jag Kakarlapudi for inviting me to speak on the podcast at Modern Work.
  • My sister and parents who are the best cheerleaders and life coaches I could ask for when I’m down or struggling with anything.
  • My husband, William Ottens, and our exchange student Lucas for putting up with the heightened level of nerd I can sometimes bring into the car or house.
My new profile on the MVP Website

Career change from SharePoint Business Analyst in education to SharePoint Systems Engineer in healthcare

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Watson Library | Image credit: Joel Cooper, KU Libraries

I’ve been fortunate these past 2.5 years to work with some incredible colleagues at University of Kansas Libraries. I worked as SharePoint Business Analyst for the libraries (150 staff in 7 branches including an Annex), working to identify solutions using Office 365 to improve communication, collaboration and business processes. I worked to drive adoption and awareness of Office 365 apps and loved everything I was fortunate to be able to do in my time there.

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