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18 April 2015

What is the best mistake that I made.....

This is a post that I wrote for 'Best Mistake' series in LinkedIn....

There is nothing like '#BestMistake'. A mistake is a mistake. Period.
Do you learn from your mistakes? Of course. Did the lessons that you learned help you to change direction in your life? Well, sometimes. Most of us might regret those mistakes, else we won't be calling them 'mistakes', we might be calling them 'the best things that happened to me' or 'my best decision ever'. 
There are two types of mistakes that I have made in my career. First is staying in a bad situation for far too long and second is getting out of a good situation far too soon.
The root cause of both the above mistakes? Ego. In the first case it was pride (did not want to be labelled 'Quitter') and in second case it was arrogance.
In the initial part of my career, I worked for about 11 years in one of India's largest steel manufacturing companies. The job was physically sapping and intellectually decaying. Moreover, it was in a place far away from home and I missed my home terribly. The job was quite a routine. Get up in the morning, go to office, do the same work, come back in the evening, go to the club, chat up with friends or play some games, come home, have dinner and sleep....
Repeat the same again and again. For years and years.
During those times when I was struggling in my futile job, India was undergoing tremendous changes. Opportunities were sprouting everywhere. The government had opened up the economy and released the entrepreneurial spirit of the ordinary Indian. Quality companies were investing in the country and there was tremendous demand for skilled labor, especially in the new path braking area of Information Technology.
The buzz of 'New Economy' was every where.
That was the right opportunity for me. I was intelligent (still am) and a keen and enthusiastic learner. The evolving economic environment was cut out for people like me, young, energetic and intelligent.
Getting a job in the new economy was also easy. One had to attend a course in any area of IT (Software, Hardware, Coding...) for about 6 months in any of the mushrooming training centers dotting the country and you were assured of a job. Getting a job was that simple.
However, moving to the new economic environment meant that I had to leave my current, reasonably well paying job for unseen pastures. These pastures were dotted with risks. I was afraid that I may take the wrong course or end up in a bad job or end up not getting a job at all, and even if I get a job, it may not pay as much as what I was getting currently. 
I was scared of taking the risk. I was skeptical of taking the plunge. I was afraid of the uncertainty of being jobless.
That fear of risk taking made me stay on in my current, energy depleting job from my 4th year, when I wanted to leave the job, till the 11th year when I finally did. 
Another reason I did not quit was my ego. I was proud and did not want to be called a 'Quitter'. I thought that it was my responsibility to cling on to a bad situation rather than leave it. 
Funny thing? After those eleven years, I got an opportunity to work in the area of Information Technology and found that I had the skill and temperament to do some great work in that area. I loved working with customers and found that I had a special talent in helping the customers to transition to the new technology, what is called 'Change Management'. After 15 years and multiple employers, I am still working in this area.
And enjoying.
The lesson I learned from this mistake is that life is too short for us to stay back in energy draining situations. We can feel a bad situation in our gut. Once we become aware of that, we should walk away.
In the case above, my mistake was to stay back in a bad situation for far too long. 
The second, and may be a worse (not #BestMistake) mistake was to leave a good job too soon.
Getting into a job is like planting a seed. You need to give time for the seed to grow into a healthy tree. Just as a sapling may face bad weather once in a while, even in a good job one may face bad experiences. But one should not give in too easily. This is the lesson that I learned from the second mistake. 
Once I got into IT area (after 11 years) and proved my mettle, I got an opportunity to work for a great company. It was a highly reputed company in India known for taking good care of its employees. Being a big company, there was always a lot of work and opportunities to learn. Great projects were for there for the picking. Intellectually I was doing great. I had published multiple papers in various online sites, was referred in Wikipedia, the work was of high quality and I was doing quite well. I was receiving regular recognition and appreciation for my good work from my manager. 
All that appreciation made me arrogant and I felt that I was indispensable.
In the third year that I worked for the company, I was down with back pain and was bedridden and effectively not available for almost 4 months. Consequently, I got a 'Fair' rating from my manager. I had received 'Excellent' rating in the previous year and felt entitled for the same in the current year also (despite being highly ineffective for about a third of the year). I did not like it at all and as soon as I got an opportunity to quit the company I did.
This was a wrong decision, taken entirely based on arrogance. 
In retrospect, the lesson that I learned from the second mistake is never to leave for 'Negative' reasons. Some of these reasons may be bad manager, good work but low pay, temporary dissatisfaction with the work etc. Negative reasons will make us desperate, emotionally vulnerable and liable to make wrong choices. In case we are having negative feelings about our current situation, try to frame it into a positive narrative before moving on. That way we will strive for opportunities better than those we are currently in. Desperate actions will lead to sub-optimal decisions.  
So that is it. Those are my #BestMistakes. Two lessons that I learned? One, Walk away quickly from an energy draining Situation. Two, Do not quit the job due to temporary difficult situations.
Oh, and one more, don't be arrogant.

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