Lessons to My Younger Self #2: Leave Your Shame at the Door

One of my worst lows as a product marketer came when I launched a product, and it wasn’t ready.

I’m not referring to a few bugs or missing polish. I mean that some core product functionality just didn’t work, which meant that some of our marketing promises just weren’t true.

I was devastated. We had worked so hard on this product and this launch. The team started pointing fingers at each other. How could we have let this happen?

As we started our post-mortem, a sinking feeling crept into my stomach, and my mind flashed back to a few days prior to launch when I had been having a conversation with an engineering lead. While he was saying all the right things about the product being ready in time for launch, I had a gut feeling that everything wasn’t as rosy as it seemed. I debated questioning him more, but I had been pushing the team on readiness all sprint, and he already seemed frustrated with me. Plus, we had a huge integrated marketing campaign that needed to launch by the beginning of the following week, and we were coming up against that deadline.

So, I bit my lip.

In the aftermath, I felt not just guilty, but ashamed. Could I have prevented this? Why didn’t I push harder? I didn’t see this as just a mistake; I judged myself as a bad person for not having spoken up enough and for letting this happen. And this shame sat with me,sitting as a cloud over my head and preventing me from fully focusing and engaging.

Beyond my shame, I was aghast at my team. I was definitely not the only one with culpability here, but my product lead, engineering lead, and leadership were all acting like nothing had happened. How could they not feel ashamed?

But they were right, and I was wrong.

While I was still regretting what had happened, they were making new things happen. They had acknowledged the issue, started implementing solutions and just moved on. While they may have acknowledged some fault, they didn’t let it impede them from moving forward.

I learned two key lessons from this experience:

“Guilt is the feeling of burden and regret that comes from knowing you’ve failed or done wrong. While guilt is focused on the specific misdeed, … shame focuses on a person’s character. Shame casts one not as a human being who did a bad thing, but as a human being who is bad.”

1) It’s not about me.

In her book Emotional Agility, Susan David writes:

Work was so close a part of my identity that I couldn’t realize that my actions were one thing, and my character was another. My mistakes at work don’t say anything about my character; my decisions might be wrong, but that doesn’t make me wrong as a person.

2) When you make mistakes, you have to leave your shame at the door.

Even if it’s been a big one, acknowledge the mistake, identify what you can learn from it, and then move on. You can’t change the past and stewing does nothing but impede your future.

I make mistakes a lot, and I still have to remind myself that the most important part when that happens is to keep holding my head up high and just keep going.

I’d love to hear: what are your best methods and tactics for bouncing back from a mistake?



I teach a Product Marketing Bootcamp class for new and aspiring marketers to learn the essentials of end-to-end strategic product marketing so they can launch with confidence.

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Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on July 23, 2018.

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