Coming to terms with the worst day of my professional career and what I learned from it
Originally posted on my blog.
My career has never been a straight path. I have learned over the years to follow my instincts and adopted a go with the flow mentality. After all, most of the time I wasted in my early adulthood was due to ignoring some of my deepest thoughts like “I don’t like this job” or “I don’t feel like I am cut for this major”, etc. So even as a junior designer I took bumpy roads and forced myself to learn new things knowing that the title of Senior Designer was never going to be handed over to me — I had to earn it.
With that in mind, I have also learned to be pretty demanding with myself. One day in early 2015 I let myself slip. It was one of those moments that would scar me, and even as events unfolded I could feel the significance, like watching myself crash in slow motion. This story begins with a firing, even though that wasn’t the worst part, just the beginning. I wrote about it partially in one of my previous articles:
Then the Director of HR walked in and told us that the company had taken the hard decision of cancelling our product. All 76 of us, Product, Design, Engineering, QA along with all consultants were let go at the same time. It was a huge blow, but with products, that’s how it goes sometimes. I think it was easier for me to process than for the rest of the team. That is, until I got home.
My Story Begins
After being let go of my job, the first day at the office after the Holidays, I began to look for a new opportunity. I actualized my portfolio, polished my resume and hit every job board. I applied to every possible job, even ones that didn’t interest me as part of my serial applying to jobs method, which I use in order to get good at interviewing and develop a solid story. One day I received an email from a company I liked, and had my eyes on since years earlier, Hotel Tonight. They invited me to come in for an on-site interview series which would last 2 days. It was the perfect opportunity. I could move my family to the Bay Area while working for one of the coolest startups and as a perk we could stay at amazing hotels around the world for free. I felt I was flying. I really wanted this job.
Prior to the meeting, several things went wrong. For one, my laptop became unresponsive days before the interview. I also spent so much time applying to other jobs, that I didn’t focus on creating a presentation for this particular interview. Alas, I decided that I could put together my presentation while traveling, but when I landed, my computer kept getting worse. Files would get corrupted and I could barely access my images in the cloud. Due to this, I resorted to save individual images on my desktop and decided I would present each image individually — like an amateur. This, of course, took forever.
The day came and it was finally my chance to present my work. The meeting was conducted in a conference room full of people. I stumbled. My computer would hesitate for what felt like an eternity to open each file and I had to keep apologizing for it. My brain was set on that, so I could’t concentrate on answering basic questions like “Why did you choose to avoid text labels on the navigation?”. What’s worse, I noticed people were disengaged. Some of them were even using their phones as I presented. I felt the floor wobble under me, as if I was standing on Jell-o. Then, lunch time.
As I had lunch with one of the executives, I told him about why I liked the company so much, how I would apply certain methodologies, my leadership style. etc. Inside, I was figuring out my strategy and was determined to bounce back during the second half of the day.
When we headed back, I was received at the same conference room, although this time it was empty. The lady that had asked me to come in for the interview, walked in and delivered the news… something to the effect of “I really appreciate you coming over, but we didn’t think you were the right fit. We’ve decided to cut the interview short as we didn’t want to waste your time.” It was the worst. I’ve experienced some bad moments in my career, like being let go over email on a Sunday, but nothing else compared to this. I felt dizzy.
With my pride broken, humiliated, I flew back home. I have spent the last 2 years reliving that memory and learning why I failed, so today I share my thoughts in the hopes that nobody has to go through such a nasty experience.
This is what I learned
1. Important tasks are done ahead of time
No one did this to me. I waited until the last minute to try to hack a solution and I paid the consequence. While it might be obvious, remind yourself of how important a certain event might be to you and prepare with enough time.
2. Be confident, but not over-confident
Who better to trust more than good ol’ you? Probably no one. However, have some measure. Even the world’s greatest leaders have made mistakes.
3. Know the compelling story behind your design
Your designs are only as good as the story behind how you arrived at that solution. The possibility of it looking good by chance is not good enough. Prepare to deliver.
4. Technology might fail, have a plan b
I’ve experienced this more than once. In fact it just occurs to me that I should also write about some of those, but I digress. Always give yourself the chance to bounce back if technology decides to stop working.
5. Take calculated risks
One can’t just wing it in life. Well, at least not all the time. If you have to make some trade-offs, understand its consequences.
6. Don’t let bad experiences tarnish you
We all have bad experiences, but must learn to turn those into growth opportunities. Behind the door of every bad experience lies a lesson ready to be understood. Regain your confidence and walk strong.
7. Learn to let go, but keep what needs to be kept
I might never get over that day. I know it doesn’t seem big to most people, but it was a huge blow to me. I stared at a mirror of a broken self for months to follow. However, what’s important is that I was able to learn from it and I will hopefully never make the same mistakes.
Quite honestly, this is still a hard day to remember. While I don’t know if it’ll fade away as a distant memory over the years, I know what I’ve learned from it will stay with me. Vulnerability and failure is a common part of life. What we do with those experiences is up to us. My hope with sharing this painful memory with you is that you’ll find confidence to reflect on your past mistakes, keep the teachings and discard the rest. Life is too short to dwell on the past and sell ourselves short.