What it feels like to deposit a gold bar into your experience piggy bank

Alex Allain
May 14, 2019 · 2 min read

You just deleted a production database. F*ck. F*ck. F*ck. You should have been more careful. F*ck. This is not going to be a good day — or week — or month. For you, your team, or your customers.

Or maybe you had a difficult conversation with a coworker that went south. You put your foot in your mouth, wanted to curl up into a ball, and are now terrified to ever talk to that person again. Good luck sleeping that night — and when you do, you’ll wake up at 6am reliving the moment you saw the tears welling up in their eyes.

In other words — you feel like shit.

But guess what mistake you will never. ever. make. again.

In the moment, it’s the worst feeling in the world. You screwed up, you probably hurt someone — maybe a lot of someones — and there’s no undo button. You just have real life consequences.

Those first moments may be pure panicked reaction, but once you’ve addressed the immediate problem, there’s another wave of misery. This is when shame and doubt creep in: “am I really good enough? How could I be so stupid? I thought I’d learned how to work in a production environment? I thought I’d learned how to have tricky converations? Can I really do this job?”

It’s easy to let those doubts erode the self-confidence to be willing to tackle tricky problems again. Worse, those doubts don’t go away once you fix the original problem. They linger because they’re not about the original problem at all; they’re about the story you tell yourself.

And that story is what you need to change.

What you just lost, you’ve lost. But for that price, you’ve also gained something: experience. And not just the cheap experience of a pleasant success, but an experience whose painful lessons you will never, ever forget.

Those times you wake up reliving the memory? They help you process it, turning raw experiences into nuanced lessons and techniques to try next time. Painful as they are, they’re helping you refine your experience. The more quickly you find those lessons, the quicker you can bounce back.

When that happens, the horrible sense of being punched in the gut will mellow out into the feeling of a gut instinct ready to warn you before you make a mistake. It’ll be there for you, every time you’re about to step into the same mess, to remind you how it felt the last time you messed this up. The more it hurt, the stronger your gut feeling will be and the more you’ll be willing to stand behind it in the face of ambiguity. When you confront the same type of situation again, you’ll know — and you’ll be ready to handle it better, with more conviction.

So, in that feeling of despair — remember two things. One, it will get better. Two, you just made a big deposit into your experience piggybank.

Alex Allain

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