I don’t believe in wasting pain.

If we’ve gone through a difficult struggle, we’ve already paid the price for the experience. We may as well benefit from it. The only thing worse than a failure is not learning from it.

And I continue to learn from the surprising and disappointing outcomes of something I considered successful. I was hired as the secretary to a pastor of an active, growing church. We had just moved to town so we didn’t know the people, and they didn’t know me, the new person in the office. The only person in the office.

I worked long hours, often on the weekends to be sure the needs of the people were met. After five years of successfully wrestling with major changes, I needed to resign.

Here’s the surprising and disappointing outcome:

When I walked up to people at church, they stopped their conversations because they were used to me needing to take care of business. I had no personal relationships outside of work. My health was why I resigned because I had burned out. I wasn’t in touch with the needs of my family of four children at home because I had been a workaholic. The youngest was a teen in a crisis I wasn’t aware of.

I had been hugely efficient but terribly ineffective. I could have been both. It wasn’t what I did; it was how I did them.

A few of many lessons learned:  

Get buy-in from people. I had become so task oriented I was often an authoritarian instead of a change-leader who listened. I needed to know the people, not just take care of them. It came down to:  “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

First things first. There is no balanced life without well-defined priorities. That includes family, health, and personal relationships. Have a life! People are more important than projects.

There are limits. A job by nature is never-ending. If it had an end, there would be no job. Turn off the lights, lock the door, and go home. There will always be work to do tomorrow.

I didn’t do everything wrong; there were good things too. Eventually I mended bridges and developed relationships after leaving the job. By owning up to my painful short-comings, I will be on watch to not repeat the old mistakes. Instead, I will be creative and make new mistakes in the future.

They will happen—and I will learn from them.


© Martha Hedge