I should never have been given the opportunity. When I was given the opportunity, I should have failed. I still expect to fail.
Spring 2012, I was interviewing for this job that I applied for because I met the qualifications, however vague they were. I don’t recall the job description, but it seemed like a shot in the dark, but I took it. And to say I had low expectations is a massive understatement; I felt defeated and beaten after years of under-employment and under-appreciation. I was called for an interview, a second one, and finally a third one. I was given a take-home assignment on the last (I was interviewed on a Friday) and was asked to email my work in Monday. I spent too many hours that weekend trying to get it perfect. I made promises to my future boss I knew I couldn’t fulfil. I essentially begged, pleaded for a chance, any chance to prove I was good enough.
After too many weeks, they called and offered me a beginning package that I was thrilled with. My expectations were so incredibly low that exceeding them was an easy task. Looking back, I realize they low-balled me; but again, I was thankful for the opportunity, and still am. I knew there would be a 90-day review, and that’s all I had my eyes set on.
I recall my first day, I felt completely out of my element. I had never worked with software engineers or on a development team. My head was really spinning following that first day. 90 days later I got called into my bosses office for that review, fully expecting him to tell me that it wasn’t a good fit. I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job, and I don’t think he thought I did a good job, but they kept me on. I kept on that way for 5 years, several times I had conversations with my boss, or his boss, about how I wasn’t excelling; on one occasion I remember him asking me “why don’t you look for another job?” Incredible!
A few years into it I was having some real personal issues. I would come into work each day and sit and cry at my desk. I would go on my lunch break to the gym, change my clothes, go running – and cry the entire time. During this time, one of my coworkers asked me if I ever thought about jumping out in front of one of those cars that went speeding by. I was a broken man, and nobody took pity on me. But, I kept showing up, doing the very best I could. In retrospect, I was doing great, exceeding expectations even. However, I never felt like I did good enough, because nobody told me so. But they kept paying me and giving me raises, even some really good ones. I got great reviews, which always confused me, given my managers feedback. Then the company grew and my manager changed. My new manager was the first one I had that gave me great positive feedback. He was the first one who asked how I was doing personally. He asked questions about my family and how I was getting along. He was an encouragement, a gift from God.
He is no longer my manager and I miss him. But I’m still working for the same company, and not only am I doing well, I’m excelling, and I know it. I also know I should have failed. I know my manager wanted to fire me after 90 days, but he didn’t. At every annual review, they acted as if I were worthless to them. I was even asked to leave once, but did not. Incredibly, I continued to contribute, and they kept paying me and promoting me. Looking back, I wasn’t a poor employee, they didn’t dislike me nor did they think I was doing a poor job – they were saying what they could to justify what they wanted to pay me. Some even said discouraging things because they were jealous or thought I was a threat. And it made me feel terrible, for years – even today, I struggle thinking I’m underperforming. I struggle to think I’m not smart enough or good enough.
This past summer a colleague told me that I should interview for a job that I thought I was neither qualified for or smart enough to do. For months, I brushed him and others off. I wasn’t smart enough or good enough, I knew that. Then my former manager, the encourager, reached directly out to me. He told me that he wanted to set up a mock-interview, so that I could learn what I needed to learn to pursue this job. Reluctantly, I agreed. Later, I would interview for real, and immediately they told me that they wanted to recommend me for the job. They told me I was smart, great to work with, and eager to learn. I could not believe it; I will tell you without any uncertainty that I felt like I bombed that interview. I knew I wasn’t good enough, I just knew it.
I started that job in June, and every single day has been challenging – I’m learning so much. And I love it, I absolutely love it. I know now that when I started this job way back in 2012 that I’m doing something I was destined to do now in 2023. It’s hard, many days I end my day exhausted, mentally drained, and almost always feeling as if I’m not doing it good enough. I have a new manager now, and have gone through two major transitions over the last 4 years with my company (being acquired). My new manager doesn’t tell me how good I’m doing, but I can see it, I know it – why then, do I feel as if I’m failing?
The short answer is that I am failing, every single day. Every day I think I make mistakes, that’s because I’m doing things that I’ve never done before; and you know what, I’m doing pretty great at it – even as I make mistakes. I have to keep telling myself I’m doing great, because few in your life and mine will ever be an encourager. Sometime I’ll have a review, and more than likely, they’ll tell me I’m not doing good enough, working hard enough, or I’m making too many mistakes. They will try to prove to me that my value is less so that they can pay me less or promote others ahead of me. But I’m persistent, I know that I work harder than most around me. I’m there before they get in, and leave after they leave. I don’t fool around at work, I’m focused, dedicated, and I solve difficult problems on the daily. I am good, and smart, and I’m more-than-just-contributing. I know people must see it, but even if they do not, I will continue to work hard, to be persistent, to push through.
Even if I have to come to work crying at my desk because I’m going through a difficult time at home, my output will continue to be positive. Even if my manager says I’m not a high performer, I’ll keep out performing others. Even if I think I’m not doing well, I know that I am because I work harder than most, I’ve put in the time, I stay persistent. My greatest trait is my consistency and work ethic. When I was a young man, an old boss gave me a great compliment – he asked me why I worked so hard, vastly out-performing my peers. I had peers tell me to “slow down” or ask me “what I had to prove?”. I guess the short answer is that in my life there’s been a shortage of encouragers, people who have believed in me. Perhaps that’s true for most people, I don’t know.
One thing I do know is that the world needs more encouragers. The world needs more hard workers. The world needs more people to show up, show out, put up and put out. The world needs us, because there are too few of us. I’ve seen a change in myself the last couple of years professionally – I’m an encourager, I always have a great attitude, I work hard to maintain good relationships with coworkers. But I can feel the little guy inside who keeps whispering “you’re a failure”. I hear him, but I keep working hard because I know the devil is a liar. That voice comes from the devil, telling me I’m not smart enough or good enough, I don’t work hard enough and I haven’t earned my spot. For the first time since I’ve started this job I know that I am more than good enough.
Lastly, I’m thankful for that little voice telling me I’m not good enough. Being good is the enemy of being great.