A friend of mine had what he describes as “a moment” this week. At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, since he has insights about people and situations on a regular basis. I’ve always attributed this to his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons and regular consumption of soy lattes. You might say he’s a conflicted kind of guy. So, I thought he might have been referring to an insight he had before passing out in a choke hold.
This time, however, he had something different in mind. He’s a software manager for a tech company in Silicon Valley and recently applied for the VP of Software Engineering position. He submitted his cover letter, resume, and list of references and then, after the posting closed, went into full panic mode.
It seems he consulted a friend in HR after the fact and discovered that he had gotten the wrong idea about the resume. What the company really wanted was a CV, which is a lengthier, more detailed record of work experience and skills (cf. Careers). Fearful that he blew it and knowing what the competition would be like, he spent a restless night trying to figure out what to do. Should he resubmit his application, turn his resume into a CV and claim ignorance, or simply accept defeat right at the outset?
“Simply” is the wrong word. He had spent a sleepless night not merely out of fear of losing his dream job. It was something much deeper: failure. My friend is in his mid-forties and, to hear him tell it, a failure personally and professionally. His marriage of eight years ended in an acrimonious divorce, he has no current girlfriend, and he has failed at various careers, from medical device sales to would-be entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He hadn’t panicked over a botched CV as much as over his entire adult life, which he reviewed year by agonizing year over the course of a night.
“I’ve failed at everything I’ve ever attempted. I have the reverse Midas touch,” he told me matter-of-factly before swigging his whiskey.
When he said that, I thought immediately of two things. First, I recalled the time I had my first big insight about undergraduate students. One day handing back papers, I realized how terrified they were of failure. Failure and imperfection. I don’t know why, but I hadn’t seen it before. To my shame, I then went about capitalizing on the insight for a few years by rubbing their noses in it. Somehow, I thought I was being authentic and hard-hitting. What can I say? My offenses back then, as the prophet says, were many. Mea culpa.
The second thing I thought of is what I believe to be the most important verse in all Scripture. “’Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning'” (Joel 2:12). I recited the Ash Wednesday reading to my friend and told him it didn’t matter how many times he failed or how incompetent he felt. It is never too late to return to God as in the Hebrew tshuva. It’s never too late to repent, atone, and keep fighting (cf., “Even Now“).
Then, as I was about to launch into platitudes à la Job’s companions, he confessed to doing just that. “Just what?” I asked. “I decided to fight back,” he said. So, he had taken out his laptop, reworked his resume so that it no longer looked like the little engine that could in a railroad yard of electromagnetic bullet trains, and resubmitted it. And, as of today, it appears to have worked. At least he hasn’t received any “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” emails from HR.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this story has a happy ending, and my friend felt confident enough to let me write about it in a blog post. But neither do I want to make light of his “night from hell,” as he puts it. Better yet, what he experienced was a dark night of the soul. What is that like? It’s like watching the entire edifice of meaning you have constructed for yourself over a lifetime come crashing down. It’s facing the real possibility that you have been fooling yourself all along and that everything you thought was right is wrong.
Still, my friend decided not to let that be the final answer, the final measure of his worth as a man and human being. He fought back. I call that anything but failure.
Image credits: feature by Isidoro Martínez on Unsplash; man asleep by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”