Failure: Losing my executive job felt awful but I'm glad it happened

Losing my executive job felt awful but I’m glad it happened

Brené Brown held an inspiring show in Melbourne last week.

If you have lived in a cave over the last few years, she is a famous research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Brené has spent more than a decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She is a superstar, I love her work, yet I wasn’t disappointed I couldn’t attend her show.

I was actually in Geelong in regional Victoria for the first time.

Why would I be thrilled to be in Geelong while my idol Brené was holding a terrific show in Melbourne?

Let me go back a few steps. Last year, I set up my Diversity and Inclusion consultancy and started working part-time for Metro Trains Melbourne in Inclusive Transport.

After 17 years of corporate leadership roles globally, it was new and risky but so empowering.

The decision came out of a long process of pain, failure, and ultimately self-reflection and resilience.

A few years before I wasn’t high performing for the first time in my career. A new inner whispering voice was right next to my right ear most of the time. She was my voice of doubt and would often visit me. She excelled to becoming my best friend. I would be curious how many of you know a voice like this.

A turning point came one day when I was in Parramatta. I was about to deliver a keynote speech at a conference, except I never did. I went to the hospital instead.

During these few days, I thought a couple of times that I’d rather die than cope with this awful pain for too long. My body had decided to stop.

For several days, I couldn’t go back to Melbourne where I lived. I was so unwell that getting on a plane was impossible. Then, a few months later, I lost my executive leadership role.

For the first time and far too late, I asked for help. My self-awareness journey started there. It took months during which I looked at my fears and realised they were just fears. Mindfulness helped: I stopped judging myself all the time.

With a big inner smile and profound respect for my parents, I accepted I couldn’t be the perfect little girl they wanted me to be. I was able to see what I couldn’t see before about myself, others, and the environment.

I learned to explore the complexity of situations and approach problems differently. I wasn’t alone on this journey; I had a loving family, a strong support network, and an excellent coach. Incredible leaders inspired me, some I met, some like Brené and Simon Sinek I watched on YouTube.

What  I love about my experience is the vulnerability I felt at that time has fuelled the courage I have today. My first – and far too late – experience of failure made my “dream life” come true.

I can be a change agent if I want to, being humble yet setting bold goals: I want to change the world, just a tiny little piece of it.

If along the way I don’t, I will have learned so much from this experience that I could do almost anything. Now that I’m moving to the next step, becoming a full-time consultant, what has changed? Between the “out of service” executive leader I was and the accomplished woman I am today what has happened that could help others?

I’m now focusing on entirely different things and setting very different goals. One of them is a “learning KPI.” I would love to hear what your daily / weekly / monthly learning routine is? Training of course, and what else? Are you trialing something you’ve never done before? Are you going somewhere you’ve never been? Are you meeting people you’ve never met in the past and don’t know you?

In only a week, I feel I’ve learned so much. So far, I have :

  • Explored the concept of Deep Listening by Oscar Trimboli and discovered Bafa Bafa, a cultural diversity awareness experience invented by the US army thanks to Holly Ransom, the incredible CEO of Emergent.
  • Been to Geelong for the first time where I met with an excellent duo. Tracey Slatter is the CEO of Barwon Water, and Lisa Loney is Performance & leadership advisor. They believe, like me, high performance and inclusion work hand in hand. We’ve discussed data, attracting talent, and how awesome it would be to have more women engineers in ops, IT, and assets.
  • Attended the first Beacon collective networking event and met other senior women working with or for the Government, gathering championed by Collette Burke.
  • Taken part of a transgender awareness training delivered by a committed and passionate transwoman, Michelle Sheppard, where I learned about gender identity, employment barriers and how to best support a transgender mentee in getting a job.
  • Exchanged exciting views with Lyndsay St Ledge on what the Future of Work will look like in the digital era at MYOB head office.
  • Shared useful tips with Michael about “my life as a consultant”: how to manage $ ups and downs, the importance of networking, the risk of becoming dependent on one sole client and the power of daring.

Along this journey, some takeaways and relevant questions may help people in a similar situation:

  • Be courageous: Go towards your risks (“Va vers ton risque” in French, copyright Maud Bailly). Know your risks, identify them, assess them, mitigate them but also dance with them. Challenge your limits by asking a simple question “How could you be wrong?” Comfort and growth aren’t good friends, and they don’t work together. Don’t try to do everything correctly; it takes too much time. My beloved husband, who happens to be a Director of Finance, gave me the best advice. How funny is that? He probably would have been fired for saying this in his organisation. “Don’t worry about the business plan!” he said. Of course, there’s always a commercial imperative; how to avoid being frightened by this perspective?
  • Be authentically curious: listen, watch, smell, ask questions. Approach every moment as a source of inspiration. You can learn in every situation, especially if you fail. A useful way of looking at it is to be excited by the process as much as the outcome. How much do you value the process of learning and trialing? To what extent does the process change your beliefs? What would you do differently next time?
  • Be adamant about the WHY, however, flexible about the WHAT and the HOW. In my example, my purpose is to make a social impact because it’s is good for leadership and business. However, there are so many ways to achieve this goal: I could consult, I could mentor, I could write a book, I could interview people, I could volunteer, I could teach, I could be a keynote speaker (this time!). I’m curious how many of you have already thought about ways to be aligned with your purpose and value? What did you come up with?
  • Surround yourself with good people, especially people who don’t look like you and don’t think like you. Well, to start with, it was weird to work on my own after having managed people during my whole career: from one trainee in 2001 to a team of 250 customer service employees, I had always had leadership roles. Now, I can develop new relationships, find new ways to collaborate and spend more quality time mentoring, and helping others. Do you know who your trusted advisors are? How much diverse are they? By the way, when was the last time you thanked them?

I wasn’t with Brené at the Melbourne Convention Centre last week but she was  definitely with me.

Emilie Perrot is the founder of small scale diversity & inclusion consultancy called WeInclusive. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.





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