On Failure: Part 3, Facing Heartbreak

Well, this has been a fun week for me (ahem…).  Nothing like walking down your failure memory lane.  But each post has opened the door to talk to people who have worn a similar failure shamefully for years.  The walking wounded.  Bearing the scars of loss under a smile.  I hope sharing my own story has provided those of you with similar struggles with some freedom.

We covered rejection – I had my fair share in law school.

Then I walked through career loss – when I lost a job I needed.

Today I’m going to share something on the personal side – a failed relationship.

I hope you have not had to walk through painful heartache, but odds are many of you have.  I have never written about this part of my history before, so I asked my husband to review it first to make sure he was comfortable with me sharing about a “pre-him” relationship.

I fell in love three times in my life.  Each time was deeper than the time before.  The third and final time, I was 30 years old and dating my husband.  I love him in a way I didn’t know I was capable of loving before him.  We are about to celebrate nine years of marriage, and I am incredibly thankful for God piecing my heart back together.

The relationship I had before my husband started out as a friendship though we realized there was a bigger connection.  Almost a year after we became friends, we started dating.  As I mentioned yesterday, for reasons I didn’t understand then, I moved to a new city for a job opportunity while the relationship was still young.  I believed it would endure the transition.  We talked every day, and I visited him and he came to visit me.

He said all the right things, and I was a total words girl and fell for everything he said.  There were some warning signs from his past relationships, but I moved forward undeterred.  I believed I would end up moving back in a year’s time when the right job presented itself.

Then one Monday night a friend called from my old town.  She asked some general questions about my life and then started asking me if I was with this man the weekend before.  I responded yes, thinking she meant a full week ago.  She expressed her great relief because she had understood he’d spent the weekend with another woman in another town.  When I cleared up the dates, I realized the time period he had been unreachable the previous weekend he was with someone else.  He arrived in town that week, and when I confronted him with the information, I discovered that he was sleeping with someone else.

I was undone.  My heart was shattered.  Infidelity was a particularly acute fear of mine because my parents marriage unraveled for this exact same reason.

I would soon be turning 30 and had put my hopes of forever after aboard the Titanic.  I spent months questioning myself (not him, that is so frustrating to me now!).  I bore the shame of the relationship failure and questioned every decision I had made.  I very briefly dated bad choices in hopes they could say something that would make me feel better about myself.  I made decisions out of a wounded place instead of a wise one.

It is perfectly appropriate to mourn the loss of a relationship.  It is not okay to let it haunt you and define you and inform your next romantic choices.

I got healthy and was comfortable being alone when I met my husband.  And because of my prior two heartbreaks, I made certain things nonnegotiable in a relationship.  Not an unreasonable list of things, but critical criteria made it to the top of my evaluation in a way they hadn’t before.  At the top of that list was honesty.  All the pretty in the words in the world will do you no good if you can’t trust one of them.  While I didn’t know I was in love with my husband for several months, he had me hooked the first night we met and we engaged in a vigorous debate.  He wasn’t trying to charm me with blowing a bunch of smoke, he was DEBATING me for Pete’s sake.  The quality might not have topped my list five years before, but honesty has created the foundation for an incredible love that I didn’t even know was possible.

It came out of failure.  Broken messy ugly shards pieced into a beautiful mosaic I couldn’t have imagined at the time.

Failures are an indication you are living.  They are a layover en route to your destination.  Do not give up because you failed.  Be thankful you are still here and can try again.  You can take a new route.  You can recalibrate your plan.  You can rest confident in the fact that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.  (Phil 1:6)

On Failure: Part 2, Losing a Job

I’ve had great jobs and not great jobs.  I’ve had great bosses and not great bosses.  I’ve had big career successes and sad failures. 

If you missed yesterday, I’m writing about the purpose in your failures this week.  You can read about it if you’d like more background on today’s post. 

Today I’m talking about something that I told two of my closest girlfriends less than a year ago that I would never share.  I have got to stop staying never.  God takes that as a line in the sand and regularly makes me cross to the other side. 

I’m not planning on sharing any details, but I lost a job. 

I tend to be an overachieving perfectionist so this was a devastating loss. 

I also have no family money, so it was an incredibly fearful period in my life as well. 

There were numerous factors, one of which was a very problematic relationship with a boss having personal struggles beyond my control, but it ultimately led to my boss telling management they had a choice, and I drew the short straw in the choice outlined.  Management delivered the message softly, but it still shook me and shocked me. 

I spent two months (gratefully while still employed) searching for jobs in several cities.  I had just begun a relationship (tomorrow’s post) and wasn’t anxious to move.  I spent weeks in between replies of “we don’t have a place for you,” and “we’re thinking about opening something up in six months” weighing if I would be a good barista and if it could cover my bills. 

I ended up with two offers.  While neither of them were the dream job I’d outlined in my head, one offer made sense and one didn’t make sense.  One kept me in my town and one moved me.  One my best friend supported and one she said was an unnecessary choice.  I choice the latter one. 

Aside from some inexplicable intervention from God to nudge me to the yes to the latter choice, I have no reason to support why I said yes to the latter.

Not to blow the punchline or anything, but the latter choice ended up being the right choice. 

I was miserable for a year though.  

I held on to that job loss grief for far longer.  Everyone thought my choice was voluntary because that is the face you put on those things, but it was not.  I wore failure like a hidden cloak of shame and it tinted every job decision I made for years.  It made me fearful.  It made me insecure.  It made me doubt my abilities. 

I let that go.  Eventually, I released the shame.  I saw the loss was a necessary evil.  One, it brought me to a place I needed to go but wouldn’t have traveled to on my own.  Two, it helped me understand others going through similar losses (I remember acutely empathizing with the throngs of lawyers who lost their job in 2008).  Three, it made me thankful for a job I loved.  Four, it reminded me God provides even when it seems impossible. 

I do wish I could shortcut your journey through the pain though.  The failure still haunting you or that you are in the middle of can often arrest your confidence and color your judgment.  Failure whispers to you to take the safe choice instead of the best one.  Failure encourages you to pick security because you’ve been thrust into a season of insecurity. 

Can you step back for a minute?  Silence the scared voice.  Look at the season or the choices as if they were your friend’s season or choices.  If you were independent, then what would you counsel?  Is there someone you can be transparent enough with to get unfiltered, but wise, counsel? 

This loss does not define you.  This failure is not who you are.  You are capable.  You are smart.  You are strong.  {===>Tweet This}  You will move beyond this and the change in course may offer even brighter opportunities. 

On Failure: Part 1, Getting Rejected

I’ve failed a bunch of times.  I’ve lost.  I’ve made a royal mess of things.

I share that for a couple of reasons.

First, I say I’ve failed because I’m going to write about some of my failures this week.  (Yay, fun.  Just what I’ve always wanted to do – broadcast my losses.)  But I’m doing it because really kind people have said things recently like, “Oh, you are so amazing, I don’t know how you do it all,” or “Wow, you just have the perfect family and career and you’re just so lucky.”  Ahem.  I write a lot about resilience in the face of failure in leadership, but all too often people look at the people leading and don’t see the failures.  They just see the success.

Second, I heard this incredible message on Saturday morning.  It deserves its own post, but the punchline was that when you’re greatest hopes crash into pieces against a rock, you must not become immobilized holding those pieces rather than doing the work necessary to have them restored.

I could write a year long series on the setbacks I’ve had, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do either of us any good.  So instead I’m going to share three stories this week that caused incredible heartache and despair when they occurred, but looking back now I can see why I had to go through the loss.  Today’s story is especially for the young adults starting out and having a hard time finding their dream, or a career, or even a job.  Tomorrow’s story is for anyone who has ever gotten fired or shredded at work.  And I’ll wrap up Wednesday with a story for anyone who has ever had their heart broken wide open.

I went to Vanderbilt Law School with grand plans.  Since I didn’t get accepted at University of Chicago, I figured I’d find a job in Chicago out of law school (I’d fallen in love with it at 18 and wanted to get back there).  My entire life, I’d been a very shy, very obedient, nearly perfect kid.  I made straight As, worked from the time I was 12 to help my family (we had very limited means), taught Sunday School, and made the peace.

Then I went to law school.  And I sort of went wild.  For the first time since 7th grade, I didn’t have a job besides school and I hung out with people that were well practiced at the art of partying.  I did fine my first semester, but my second semester I tanked.  To top it off, I spent the summer studying in Oxford so I didn’t add an ounce of practical knowledge to my resume for the fall recruiting season.

I cannot even count the on-campus interviews I gave.  A bunch.  For law firms at most cities in America.  I did not receive ONE call back.  Not one single solitary employer was interested in giving me a second interview (and most definitely no one in Chicago).  I thought about dropping out of law school.  I wasn’t loving much but the social aspect, and I clearly was unemployable.  But I owed Vanderbilt $33,000 for my first year.  Oh, and I owed Oxford some money.  So I decided I better get a degree.

The one thing I had NO plans to do was move back to Texas.  But it turned out, Texas was one of the few markets hiring in 1997.  So I wrote a lot of Dallas/Fort Worth law firms letters (you see, this was before everyone had email addresses), and I bought myself a plane ticket and met a bunch of lawyers.  One wonderfully brave law firm extended me an offer for a six week clerkship that summer.  I joined a class of 8 clerks.  I have never been so grateful.

But I still had another half of my summer to fill.  And no job to fill it.  So while my fellow law students did big firm summer splits, I moved home with my mother for six weeks and took a job with a temp agency as an assistant at Compaq.  I told people that I worked in their law department, which ironically I was stationed in, but never mentioned that it was through a temp agency as an admin.

I share this story, which still creates that well of insecurity in me, to let you know that I have no pedigree.  My family has no money or connections.  I went to a tiny undergraduate school in Arkansas that folks still can’t pronounce, and I still don’t know exactly how I ended up at Vanderbilt.  I hung out with people that had way more money that me and I got in a lot of credit card debt.  I stayed in law school my second year because I didn’t feel I had any options.  I only ever had one real law firm clerkship and thankfully they extended me an offer.

If you had told that insecure law student that she would work for a global energy company and write a book and have a family and win some awards, she would have told you to sober up.

Those failures, academic, personal, professional, made me stronger.  They introduced me to a community I would have never known and for which I am ever so thankful to have found.  They paved the path that needed to be paved.  I took some detours that didn’t need to happen, but God used even those to teach me something about myself and others.

Don’t be embarrassed about the way you got to where you are.  And don’t be scared that your current situation defines your future potential.  It. Does. Not.

The Tiny Fells the Tower

It’s Monday, so I know I’m due to publish a post.  And there is so much good going on that I’m dying to write about it all:

* What went down yesterday at my church where we gave away dozens of tables for neighborhoods across Houston – I could just pass out from how big and unbelievable God is.

* This great time I had with my dear friend last week before she got some absolutely heartbreaking news.  How it just made me so grateful for each moment we have with those in our lives we love.

* My new door which will get a chapter all its own.

But I fell on Saturday.  I busted up my knees and twisted my ankle, and I absolutely wrenched my middle finger/part of my left hand.  Bray had to take me to the ER to see if was broken.  It’s not, but it’s nearly unusable.  It’s this teeny portion of my entire body, but it has debilitated me this weekend.

Which is ironic.  Because the reason I fell, at the very core, is because I was outside of where God wanted me.  I knew it and just went on ahead with my plan and idea.  So in this season when God is doing such big things in my heart and in my life, I do a foolish small thing and it nearly debilitates me entirely.

Isn’t that nuts?  How one tiny area of a life otherwise well lived can cripple your entire life if you don’t heal the one tiny broken/ wounded/ wrenched spot?

The tiny fells the tower.

So I can’t type much today.   I hope to be back when my finger, and my wayward heart, is healed.

Fashion Fridays: In Defense Of Pantyhose

I was visiting with a friend who has a big interview coming up, and we were discussing the right outfit for her to wear.  In the debate over skirt suit versus pant suit, the topic of stockings came up when she exclaimed, “Pantyhose are so 1985!”

Au contraire mon frere!

Pantyhose are so 2015.  Seriously, I get that most of us women don’t actually enjoy wearing stockings.  They have some serious downsides.  Particularly if you live in the South where it’s summer 8 months a year.  They can be uncomfortable, a pain to wash, hot, and they will run if you’re not careful.

But…they ADD polish.  If you had any doubt:

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You do not have to have Her Royal Highness in your title for pantyhose to make an outfit more sophisticated and smooth your figure.  I’m certainly not advocating for pantyhose every day but, depending on the degree of formality of your profession (teacher = 2, Wall Street investment banker = 10), you may need them more often.  Certainly as an attorney, I would never go into a courtroom wearing a skirt suit without stockings.

Here are some tips for when you SHOULD wear pantyhose:

1.  When you have selected a skirt or dress option for an interview.  There are likely a handful of professions where an exception applies, but not most.  If you opt for a sophisticated dress or a suit for a work interview, then wear stockings.  There are several ways to do it – with nude sheer stockings or with gray or black sheer stockings.  But don’t select a power suit for an interview and then forego stockings.

hoseFrida Gustavsson for Alberta Ferretti collection (Fall 2010) photo shoot

2.  When you want to stand out.  Stockings don’t just have to be for conservative job interviews.  They can help you stand out as fun, edgy, quirky, or fashion forward.  Whether its opaque tights with a bright pop of color or sheer stockings with a retro dress, these can be just as important of an accessory as your scarves or necklaces.

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3.  When you want to up the polish quotient.  If you buy the right pair, not sparkly or fishnet or patterned, stockings can add an element of luxury.

4.  When you have a meeting with executives.  Dress for the job you want.  As many female executives as I spent time with last year, I never met one that wore a skirt suit without pantyhose (now many of them wore pants, as do I most of the time, but at events where I met them in skirts, pantyhose came along for the ride).

5.  When you have an evening event and need to lose 10 pounds.  The slimming effect of pantyhose is incredible.  Especially if you splurge on a pair of Spanx pantyhose.  They come in a solid variety of sheer colors and come over your ribs to slim from mid torso to toe.  I’ve had people remark on how lovely my legs look because they don’t even realize I have on pantyhose until I tell them.  For a cocktail event with a closed toe pump, I highly recommend them.

What about you?  Have I converted you from the anti-pantyhose camp?

Kate images courtesy of Ask Allie. Women in suits courtesy of Marie Claire.