Hard Times and Sunny Days

I like listening to speeches. I can bear very few of them though. One of the speeches that I’ve been able to listen to from start to finish with total attention, and I’ve listened to it many times, is the well-known Stanford University 2005 Commencement address by Steve Jobs.

I believe that nowadays it’s very difficult to find another speech so brilliant and inspiring among the known leaders in business, science, politics, religion, sports … It’s a true Jobs’ product:

  • Perfect elaboration.
  • Simple structure and content.
  • Clear, direct and easy to understand.
  • Captivating.

I like listening to it more than reading it. As a speech, it is written to be delivered and by reading it, the extraordinary and subtle nuances that Jobs’ oratory offers are missed.
Steve Jobs knew as no one else how to manage people psychology to find out their strong points, their vulnerabilities and insecurities (Walter Isaacson in ‘Steve Jobs’).
Maybe he exercised that ability to engage and thrill his audience. But maybe he wanted to share his vital experience with that young people who were going out to begin their adult working life. And he did it in the same way he lived, fusing technology/business and spirituality/illumination.

In my opinion, the speech is perfect from start to finish. I listen to it from time to time, mainly when I need to reconcile with life. This time I’d like to point out one of its three stories, the one about “Love and Loss”.

In this story he describes his reaction when he had to face a very dramatic (devastating in his words) event, a huge failure: he got fired from Apple, the company he started.
After describing how terrible he felt, he let us know how he started over thanks to his love for what he did.
His description of that new adventure, his feelings, his achievements, how he met his wife and started a family and how he finally returned to Apple leadership, are genuine lessons of positiveness, motivation, proactivity and trust in life.

In these times we are facing, many businesses and life projects fail, resources are scarce, news about closures, layoffs and hopeless are filling up everything.  In these days, a message like the Jobs’ one is very important. It must be brought to the attention that behind a failure, a loss, surely a great opportunity could be found. But to get it, passion and faith to find it are needed.

All of you already know about Jobs’ return to Apple, so let me tell you a little and insignificant story that, in its humility, shows how thanks to a failure a goal or a dream can be accomplished.

Our protagonist is a young woman, recent college graduate searching for her first job.
Thanks to a job offer in a newspaper, she knows that a leading company is hiring people with her college degree. That degree is the only thing she has on her CV plus some occasional work.  

After passing some languages and psychotechnic tests and two interviews with a couple of managers, she has to go through her third and crucial interview. This time the second in command, the company deputy director, will interview her.

The interviewer holds in his hands the complete academic record of the applicant. He asks her some questions and praises her excellent results. Our protagonist smiles and thinks for herself that he has only checked the two last years out of the five years the degree lasted. During her 3rd year she went through some personal issues and finished it with three curriculum subjects pending. She considers that incident as a burden that could keep her away from that job.

Suddenly the director throws this question: How do you respond to failures?

For an endless fraction of a second, the applicant’s mind goes blank. Failure? What’s that? She considers herself so inexperienced that she hasn’t had the opportunity of failing. So, what to answer him? All of a sudden she recalls her fears for her 3rd year results in College and answers:
“well, failures… I do not think I’ve had… But, well, maybe my 3rd year results could be considered as a failure. If you check them, that year I did it badly compared to the others. My mother suffered a serious disease and that unfocused me in such a way that I finished with three pending subjects. Next year I chose the specialty that I wanted to get, one of the most difficult, plus the three pending subjects. I passed everything with good results and won a scholarship.”

The interviewer keeps quiet, looks at the academic record in his hand and verifies that information. Shortly afterwards, the interview is finished in a cordial and polite manner. Some days later, our applicant is hired.

Our young woman considered that failure as a stain in her CV, but it didn’t have any influence against her, it even was the key to get the job she was applying for.
In her behavior there were two great successes:

  • Admitting she had failed. This was a success because:
    • She showed herself as an honest and trustful person. Good academic results were pointed out as very important, yet she noted her results were not perfect. The interviewer could verify it immediately.
    • That acknowledgement and the way she managed her failure made her special and differentiated her from other candidates.
    • One way or another, all of us have had a failure some time. If someone says the opposite, watch up!  That person will have it and there is no clue about how the response will be.
  • She displayed what could be expected from her whenever she faced trouble, obstacles, mistakes …

Throughout other people experience, my own one and having worked with “unerring” people too, I have come to appreciate as very important in my relationships with others that:

  • You should not be afraid to acknowledge and inform failures and errors. What really matters is the way you respond to them. That distinguishes you.
  • A person matures and displays his/her true character facing difficulties.
  • There is nothing like sincerity and integrity to be trustworthy. People want to work with trustworthy people.

It’s generally considered very important to show a winner or success image. In my opinion, it is a mistake to consider success as not-to-fail. I do believe in these well-known words (I’ve read they are Booker T. Washington’s words):

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed.”

I believe this is something that Project Managers must know and understand, as we have to lead and manage people in our teams. We have to take it into account to manage and overcome problems with our team, as well as to deal with people who is feeling down and frustrated. We have to know and let know that to keep going is a must. A time will come when we’ll overcome the obstacle, be higher up and with better views.

To finish, I want to share some lyrics of a Bruce Springsteen’s song, my favorite rock musician. In his vibrant song “Waitin’ on a sunny day” he says:

“Hard times baby, well they come to tell us all
Sure as the tickin’ of the clock on the wall
Sure as the turnin’ of the night into day
Your smile girl, brings the mornin’ light to my eyes
Lifts away the blues when I rise
I hope that you are coming to stay

For sure, we’ll face hard times. They come to everyone sooner or later. But we have to keep going, with our head held high and looking forward. It’s also sure that the dark clouds will go away and a sunny day will dawn. And thanks to our failures, losses or mistakes, we’ll be wiser, stronger and able to appraise and take full advantage of those days full of light and warmth.

Rayos de luz entre las nubes

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