The Positive Side of Failure

Disclaimer: This isn’t another Mental Health post. I’ll share that part of my story sometime later. This is going to be raw, so if you can’t read this, don’t. I am not looking for empathy or sympathy. These experiences brought me to where I am and I don’t resent them. I want this to be something that helps others know they can be better, and push themselves to find it. Even though the road is rough.

The first road

One thing people find strange about me is that I never intended to work with computers. The idea of IT work was something that sounded so tedious and horrible, that when I was 7 I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do. No, 8 year old Nathan knew he was going to be a pastor, or a missionary but definitely something to do with the Gospel message of Good news. I taught Sunday school, lead children’s church as a teenager. Led worship once even, and while I was in college I was a youth minister for a small church. However, whatever religion, belief you are, you know that things don’t always turn out how you plan.

While I was in seminary our church went through a very rough time. So rough in fact that the pastor had lost the trust of the session. To those that know what that means its a pretty messed up place for all involved; the church, the session, and most importantly the pastor. The church voted to remove the pastor, a man who had been mentoring me in becoming a better version of myself behind the pulpit, and a strong help in my life.

This was rough, but then I was also flunking one of my classes. I talked to my teacher who told me,

“Just memorize this passage and I’ll pass you.”

Instead of taking the win, my reaction was, “Then why is this class mandatory?” The straw that broke the camels back was we were in seminary housing, and we were told we could have a cat. But when they found out we had one, they wanted us out. This lead to a perfect storm that taught me one thing. I was in the wrong place.

One thing that came out of it was my wife (who’s still married to me, don’t ask me how). Came home after another day of bringing home the $$ for the family, and found me in the middle of the living room, with all the pieces of my computer spread out. “What happened??”, I replied, “I found the noise in my computer, I KNEW it wasn’t the fan.” This led my patient wife to ask me later on, “So why don’t you work with computers??”

The second road

“So why don’t I?? Its always been a hobby. I’ve been ok with it from time to time, and for some reason my wife and others think I’m good at it… Nah, I’ll never be good at it.” 

This was my thinking after we moved out of seminary and into a house. I took a job as a barista at Starbucks over a job with Bomgar (which is now Beyond Trust). At the time we were living in Mississippi, and Bomgar headquarters was only 20 mins from my house. That nagging feeling stayed there. Especially when I couldn’t say what “DNS” stood for.

I worked as a Barista for about a year, and man I was good at it. I loved working with the people, and I REALLY loved my boss, Summer. She was a hard taskmaster but a good listener. She really helped me out once or twice at work. Some of the assistant managers didn’t take too kindly to me when I started, but I worked my way up, and moved to the only barista on the 6AM drive through (Which meant I took orders and made the drinks). Man I was good at that. It helped that I was good talking to people, after about 6 years in retail from selling toys, to books, and music.

As I was working at Starbucks my dad told me of one of his friends who needed a tech hand. I asked what was needed and he said, “Oh you just need to be able to image and re-image machines.” Thats childs play I though. I told my dad I’d be happy to look into that job all the while that voice was in the back of my head. “You can’t do IT… Its not your thing…” was the voice in my head. Arguably it was a jump. At this point I’ve only worked on my own computers and sold them at Circuit City(dating myself here). So I picked up the job.

Third Road

The interview process for this job was strange. I came to this mans house and gasped at how nice it was. I went to the front and rang the doorbell. After meeting his wife and son, I met the friend of my dad’s. He was a military man and I could tell from talking to him he was a strict man. After our discussion(which was over an hour), He told me I had the job and told me to start Monday. This wasn’t a problem as my manager at Starbucks was stellar and a friend from seminary. She let me off and I took the position.

Its worth mentioning this was my first time to touch a server. It didn’t help that it was a desktop server and not rails. In fact, I never touched a rail server through this job. I pushed updates, Ran CCcleaner and did random tasks. I basically did whatever his client asked me to do. I started to learn from them and him, but I was distracted. That voice never left. I never could break the idea that I could do well in this environment.

One thing I immediately realized was I had an issue with checklists, I had an astigmatism in my right eye that made me skip lines when I was reading, so I would miss steps.

I only worked for the man 3 months. Within the first 1.5 months we were at odds. I’d ask for help from him on the phone and he would talk me through things now and again, but one time I stayed on the phone after I said goodbye just out of tiredness and I heard the words,

“What an Idiot!”

To say my confidence was shattered at that job from then on is pretty easy to understand. I kept trying though. I became unable to think for myself, and leaned on him more which led him to get more angry at me. You see, he wanted me to ONLY do things his way, but my personality was more curious than that. If I had a document to follow, I’d still have questions about it.

In a troubleshooting session I called him and after working through some issues he said he would reach out to support. When I was back on the phone with him I was greeted by a friendly, “Good to meet you Nathan, let’s take a look.” So I began to talk through what was going on and what the issue was, after about 30 seconds, my boss interjected, “I’ve already told him the issue you don’t have to go into it.” I shook that off this time, because this time I thought I found the issue. I let him talk for a second then asked, “Well I think the problem is over in…” and was interrupted again,

“Nathan this is the guy who helped code the application. Your opinion is not needed or wanted, you can go home.”

So I did. I never heard what the issue was, and I asked. My boss never told me. It was a week later my boss said he believe my heart to not be in the job. A week after that I told him that I was going to quit. I’ll never forget his response.

Thats good Nathan, I think your a great artist. You should do guitar or choir or something in music but stay out of IT. You will never be successful in that field. You don’t have what it takes. I just don’t think you can comprehend it”

The artist statement was because I was a music minor in college. I played classical guitar and sang in the choir mostly. I also took a couple of classes here and there. The problem with going into music was I was in my mid 20s at the time and I knew I didn’t have the skills.

The pit stop

Calling the next couple years a pit stop is a generous statement. I literally had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I took on odd jobs, played lots of video games.

That awesome Starbucks manager took me back, and even though she already had the staff to run the shop, she found a place for me. So I went back to Starbucks for another 6 months. That time was pretty critical for me because I started re-gaining some very needed confidence.

I began realizing that no matter what people said, I am good at things. I just don’t know what I should be doing.

My amazing wife continued to be my cheerleader, friend and hope each day. She took on some rough jobs to keep the bills paid, but she was just stellar through this whole process. She would come home and talk about the people at work and I would tell her how I played video games each day, and did some studying.

That studying was because I had an amazing cousin who spun up a Hyper-v cluster for me to utilize to learn Microsoft Active Directory and other computer issues. To be fair, I didn’t utilize it enough or appreciate the gift that he had created for me. My mind was in such a state that I just didn’t know what to do, and I needed a good kick to get me out of this funk.

The kick

During this time we had moved from Mississippi to Fort Worth, Texas. We were living in a house that my in-laws had and wanted to keep clean/kept up, instead of just being dormant. Well it was summer and we were told the house needed to be sold and we needed to find a new place. Also during this time, we were trying to sell the house in Mississippi that we bought. That house stayed on the market for over a year, and after swapping realtors we found out that we were asking well over what that house was worth. However, we got an offer and took it having to pull a 12k loan to get out of that house. Debt piling up and the fear of no roof over my head, the only thing I could do was go back into the job market. I went to a legitimate temp agency just to get something. Surprisingly, they said my skills are mostly fit for IT, and they place me at RadioShack as a graveyard shift tech for setting up new stores.

Its kinda funny how that 12$ an hour job was a godsend to us. My income had doubled and I thought, “This is ok for now till I find a better solution.”

The Road I’m On…

Working at RadioShack ended up being a great experience. The people I worked with were fun and hilarious, the bosses were nice (mostly), and some were even tough taskmasters. But one thing they all had that I didn’t know existed in IT, was resilience. Failure wasn’t the worst thing, nor was following documents. The worst thing you could do was to be lazy and complacent.

While I was there I learned a lot, but still thought I’d never be great at higher level IT. I didn’t even think this was IT. I just slung hardware at problems and never really dug into much. Then after the project was over they were going to cut the contractors. However, I had worked through the night and into the day shift and had grown a good relationship with that team and manager. They had even put me in the day phone queue for a while to help with calls. After all this my bosses boss came up to me and said,

“Stop working overtime! I’m not going to pay it if you can’t watch your hours!” That shook me for a second, then the dayshift manager (who wasn’t my manager) piped up and said,“He’s worth it”. Then his boss responded, “Well, HIRE him.”

The guy that said that probably had no idea, and still doesn’t know how big those three words were to me. For the first time, I had worth in the IT field. I was GOOD at it, at a professional level. Even though phone help is seen at a lower scale, to me it was still a “big boy job”.

RadioShack definitely had its hardships, but I built great relationships with people, learned a lot, and went from a phone tech, to a level 2 server admin, to a network operator. My next job was a graveyard tech at an Oil company. I worked graveyard for about a year, and then moved to the day shift doing data analysis with BMC Remedy, and then the VMware guy who was dealing with vRealize Automation asked me to code the automation for creating, adjusting, modifying tickets and the CMDB.

My issues with checklists, went away with automation, and I finally found my home. I’ve been working automation ever since pushing either DevOps code based solutions, or Gui based automation that will push one thing to the next without having to manually click buttons off a procedural checklist.

The Positive Side of Failure…

This may read very negatively, but I’m very glad for each step I took along the way. I love my wife and remember each day that she did for me, what I do for her now. I love that she can be what she wants and has that freedom. I push myself each day to learn and grow, but more importantly, I push myself to ‘fail’.

Out of my career I’ve learned that failure isn’t an option, it’s a part of life. It’s going to happen no matter what you do. It is how you respond to it that defines your success. It took me a long time to learn that lesson. I still know people who deal with failure incorrectly. They think if they fail, they will never be successful. I find that I’m successful, because I fail, and I’m not alone. Here are some quotes by some interesting people:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. ” – Calvin Coolidge

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  – Thomas A. Edison

As a kid, falling was embarrassing. As I got older, I got used to falling and picking myself back up. There’s not a sense of failure. It’s of disappointment. You train so hard to not make mistakes. When you do, you’re learning from that. How do I improve? How do I get better for the next time? Through every failure, there’s something to be learned. – Michelle Kwan

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” – C. S. Lewis

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious … and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

Let these be the voices in your head, and each time you fall, remember that fall, accept what happens, take the noise from the fall out of your head, and move on. Each fall is teaching you something, learn from it. Michael J. Fox uses the word vacuum very well:

“There’s always failure. And there’s always disappointment. And there’s always loss. But the secret is learning from the loss, and realizing that none of those holes are vacuums.”  – Michael J. Fox

This hits home for me. That voice in my head so many years, was a vacuum, and these take multiple forms. You can let it be a boss, a job that you lost, a friends issues, etc. The challenge of life is to learn from these and move on. Because if you don’t they may suck you in and down a hole that takes entirely too long to get out.

If you made it this far, thanks for staying with me. This is a bit of my story telling how I made it to where I am. I’m not the most amazing person out there, and I don’t have the technical knowhow to know everything, but that’s the path I’m on. Wether I learn from failing or reading, or doing, everything is learning. I may fail in how I teach my kids, or how I fix up the shower, or anything. This is my perspective now in life.

“I will fail. I will fall. But I will learn the best that I can from it.”