I walked into a counselor’s office February 2015.
I had just laid off a dozen friends a few weeks beforehand and I’d just gone through what felt like 7 years of blessings followed by 7 years of curses in one year.
Go back to December 2014. Our software consultancy landed the biggest client we’d ever had.
AT&T looked at the proposal we sent for a project and said, “We think you’re the team to build this, but we are concerned because all the other proposals we got from other companies were much higher and the teams were larger.”
Well, that was an easy fix! We doubled the fee, removed the list of people who’d be working on it, and they said yes.
We had already been in a pretty good place financially speaking, but with this extra financial security, we knew we could hire people to build up marketing, selling, and enhancing our own products, which we had been steadily investing in.
Before Slack, we built a product called And Bang that was like Slack, but more fun. Before Zoom, we made a product called Talky that was like Zoom, but easier to use. (It’s still around, spun off as Talky, inc.)
We hired some of the most remarkable people we knew and we dove in, investing in these products alongside our contract projects.
AT&T loved the work we were doing for them. We were way ahead of schedule, and we were discussing a contract extension that would have doubled or tripled the revenue.
We were flying high and it all came crashing down when AT&T bought DirecTV and slashed all their R&D budgets in order to cough up the $50 billion for the purchase.
It didn’t matter that we had months left of the contract. In one day, the contract was over. We spent the next 7 months scrambling financially. We watched Slack debut then take off and we folded And Bang. I still miss it.
But I didn’t lay anyone off until we had burned entirely through the hundreds of thousands of dollars of reserve we’d build up. I didn’t lay anyone off until the finances forced me to.
In a two hour conversation, I described the world of feelings I had to this counselor, and she said “Ok, so you’re using your team to get your needs met.”
I was jarred and hurt by this because all I wanted was to take care of these people who I cared about so much.
She explained that I was overdoing my responsibility to them because it made me feel valuable to take care of everyone else.
Ultimately because I didn’t want to let anyone down, I let everyone down. The company could have cut payroll when we lost the project, preserves our reserve, avoid 7 months of agony with the whole team experiencing the intensity of staring at our dwindling numbers month after month.
But my ego need to help everyone and come through heroically and my fear of people not liking me for making a hard decision to let people go when we had money in the bank all got in the way.
As a result of those experience and years of work in therapy, I have come to grasp that in order to be useful to others in a way that is truly valuable to them, I need to accept and value myself outside of what I can do for anyone else. That means I need to accept my limits, my faults, my strengths, and my weaknesses, my failures and my successes—all as an integrated whole.
A couple years ago, I watched A Wrinkle In Time with my kids. It was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. There’s a lot that was different about the adaptation, but one of the moments that I remember from the book is preserved on screen, where the Mrs’s are giving children gifts for their difficult journey and then they get to Meg and simply say:
"Meg, I give you the gift of your faults."
I couldn’t help but well up with tears.
My flaws, my failures, my weaknesses, my constraints—I know those are an important part of who I am.
Not only does honoring them help me value myself, I have seen them as some of the greatest gifts I have been given in service of others.
Being honest and accepting all of myself has allowed me to be even more helpful to others—and not in a heroic way where I’m trying to save the day for someone else, but instead by enabling me to better support others as they work through their own challenges.
And accepting myself—all of myself—has also helped me in my own life to make difficult choices that others may not accept or may cause them to dislike me, but choices which are the right ones for me.
And in the midst of all of this turmoil and challenge, I get to go back to my myriad flaws and failures and be grateful for what they have given me, and know that in whatever challenges I may have coming in this stretch ahead, I have everything that I need.
For the resilience I need and the resilience you need, there is perhaps no more powerful line than:
To you, too, I give you the gift of your faults and your failures.