Failure, the roaring successes in tech say, is the best teacher. That's because it gets our full attention, the pain is unforgettable, and therefore the lesson becomes embedded forever in our unconsciousness. No, we will never make that mistake again.
Interviews which don't yield work, either contract or full time, are exactly the failures Silicon Valley folks praise. It's worth our time to do a thorough autopsy on what went wrong. That can improve our game by 300%.
About a month ago there was a small help-wanted on Craigslist seeking a content-provider for educational matters. It was placed by a design firm on the Gold Coast of Connecticut. That is Fairfield County where there are the elite professional services enterprises which tend to be low-key, conservative, and cautious. Those kinds of organizational cultures were never a fit for my kind of persona and approach to assignments.
When in doubt, leave it out. I should have listened to my gut. The first appointment for an interview was cancelled. I felt a surge of relief. I recognized the odds of being accepted by the firm, despite my portfolio of samples and experience in the educational field, were not good. When it wanted to reschedule I backed out.
Why I backed in again is the brutal lesson I hope I now have down cold. And that's magical thinking that I have changed enough and the world has changed enough to render me okay in the values of the sorts of professionals who inhabit much of Fairfield County, CT.
The three of us sat down around a table in a quaint building on a quaint New England main street, with retail boutiques nestled around. Within me, my sense of a professional self was shrinking into a hard ball of self hate. The rest is predictable. I oversold, in an unduly aggressive manner. No question, the two graphics people had to conclude I would not be a good fit to work directly with the educational institutions they served which were prep and other kinds of private schools. My high degree of discomfort returned me to my working-class roots, ranging from too loud a voice to too pronounced facial gestures.
So, let's review the findings of the autopsy:
Everything changes, but not that much. It's reckless to overestimate the degree to which a context has morphed. Given how much interviews take out of us, it's reckless to even go there. Instead explore new territory. Next Tuesday, I am going to lower Manhattan, more aligned with my hustler self, to interview for a contract assignment in legal communications.
When escalating, take some deep breaths and artfully pull back. When something is going off the rails, it can be repaired in real time. In zen meditation, the kind Steve Jobs mastered, we find out that focusing briefly on breathing can slow us down enough to analyze what's happening and do course correction.
Let them go on playing in their sandbox. Reality is that cultures are so different, and getting more different all the time. Those folks on the Gold Coast have their upscale sandboxes to play in. Their toys might seem pretty alluring. But we probably will never be allowed to touch them. Let's accept that. Stop the tape in our heads about their professional setting and focus on improving our own little sandboxes. Sandboxes are different, not better or worse than others.
Take time to heal. If we realize that extent of the wounding, we will care for it. When I was ready to address the emotional impact of this situation, including a hit to confidence, I arranged a day off. I drove to my own neighborhood in ethnic downtown Jersey City, New Jersey. People there were just like me. And they were surviving. They seemed happy. Like them, I had to accept who I was and how that could both limit and expand my professional horizons.
Lessons did take. Since that setback, I have been handling interviews in ways that brought in work about 45% of the time. I have a hunch I can bring that up to about 75%.