Learning From The Past—Without Letting It Dictate The Future

Years ago I worked as a development associate at a nonprofit, working largely on grant writing and administrative tasks. I had a lingering feeling fairly early on that the role wasn’t a great fit, but it wasn’t until the organization had its annual gala—by far its biggest fundraising event of the year—that I completely lost my confidence.

To make a long story short, despite having tested the mobile credit card processors at the office, the machines failed when the gala attendees attempted to pay for the auction items they had won. As you can probably imagine, chaos ensued as we scrambled to write paper receipts, and we spent weeks after the event cleaning up the mess.

Like anybody, I have had my fair share of slip-ups at work, but that gala was without a doubt the worst I have ever felt about anything work related. Ever since that time, I have had a bit of a phobia about work tasks that involve heavy logistics, despite having some positive experiences since then.

Recently, in a relatively new role, I was given the responsibility of organizing our company’s presence at an industry tradeshow. The task included more logistical work than I have ever had to do professionally, including that night at the gala. Between securing vendors for booth design, shipping, printing and promoting, it felt like a daunting task.

Unfortunately, during most of the time I was working on this project, I fell into the trap of taking a fatalistic attitude. I repeatedly told friends and family that I was sure something would go wrong, that I would screw up, and that I would settle for anything that wasn’t a complete disaster. At the same time, I double and triple checked my preparation, driving myself crazy in the process.  

As the event approached, however, I came to a realization that perhaps should have been obvious all along. Much of what I was obsessively worrying about was out of my control. Once I shipped materials out of the office to the show, I have no control over whether it arrives on time and in what condition. I don’t control the Internet speed at the conference either. All I was doing by worrying was making myself miserable and maybe even creating a self-fulfilling philosophy that I was destined to fall on my face.

The truth is that major problems could still arise at the show. As with anything in life, it is generally impossible to completely eliminate any possibility of a negative outcome in a given situation. But I did the work I was supposed to do, reviewed it thoroughly and can genuinely say that I did my best.

So next time I have a task or assignment that evokes a less-than-pleasant memory, I’ll do my best to look forwards and not backwards. Letting past failures impact how we feel in the present—rather than serving as learning experiences—accomplishes nothing but creating anxiety. Every project is a separate venture unto itself, complete with its own set of challenges. From now on, I’ll do my best to see them that way. 

Eric Lebowitz is the Director of Marketing at Critical Mention and co-founder of The Forward Marketer, a digital marketing firm and official HubSpot Agency partner. He loves golf and the New York Mets.