A Note on Personal Accountability

And then Billy found out it was an unpaid internship...

It’s 9:21 AM on Tuesday April 23rd and I’m working on my slides for a three-day training I’m going to be giving tomorrow. I’m in my PJs and slippers. Enjoying my third cup of coffee.

My cell phone goes off (which I don’t notice, because I hate the phone and leave it on mute most of the day). My phone goes off again. And again. And again. Then I get two, then four, then eight text messages and an email asking me, “How are the roads treating you? Do you have an ETA?”

That’s weird, I think. Do they think the training is supposed to start today?

I check my Google Calendar – I confirm that – on my calendar – the class starts tomorrow, as far as I know. My phone goes off again – this time, I see it. So I find the order sheet for the class – the dates read: April 23, 24, and 25. My heart drops into my stomach as I realize I am, at that moment, supposed to be training a Fortune 150 company.

I’m not afraid of swear words – on this blog or elsewhere. I see swearing as an art form. The exact phrase I had for that moment: “Holyfuckwhatthefuckingfuckballs have I done!?”

If you’ve never done it before, when you blow off a Fortune 150 company, your first instinct is to cover yourself in talc powder and face paint and start your post-personal-apocalypse life – hunting rodents in the field, scaring tourists into dropping their doggy bags, simultaneously admiring and urinating on local art. It took about ten minutes for me to talk myself down and put the talc powder back in the medicine cabinet, and that’s when I called the training coordinator.

“Hey, I got your messages. I thought the training started tomorrow,” I said.

“It started today and they’re in here waiting for you. They can’t push back the training a day, they can’t get the room. The manager is pretty upset,” he said.

The manager at a Fortune 150 company is upset. A conference room full of employees is looking to that manager for cues to how to react to the news that their trainer is nowhere to be found. He’s pissed. They’re pissed. I’ve got to eventually walk in there and teach these people how to do something with less than zero credibility because I couldn’t be bothered to show up on time. Not exactly the best situation to walk into. The talc powder is beckoning… the towel rack would make a very effective impromptu spear…

“It’ll take me at least an hour to get there, but if I leave in the next hour, I should be there just after noon,” I said, “We’ll skip a break and cover the material pretty quickly, but we should be able to make up the time.”

“That’s fine. Get here when you can. What do you want me to tell them when they ask why you didn’t show up?” The training coordinator was giving me a way out.

“Tell ’em I screwed up and I put it into my calendar on the wrong date,” I said. “Tell them I’m very sorry for wasting their time this morning and I’ll be there right at noon to start up their training. I’ll be there as late as I need to be each day this week so they can ask about anything they like.”

And I got my butt in gear. For three days, I trained the hell out of ’em. At the end, not one of the evaluation forms mentioned the late start. Instead of walking into a firing squad, I walked into a group of ready-to-learn incredibly smart, talented people who forgave me for being human (and honest).

I wanted to tell you this story for two reasons. First: I’ve never been afraid of talking about my mistakes, especially seemingly fatal ones. As your business grows, the stakes of the mistakes grow too – so they all seem fatal, even though they’re not. Just like everything else in this world, how you react to your circumstances dictates your success or failure.

The moral of the story isn’t, “Look at me, look how responsible I am” – it’s “I wanted to run away and become a Prairie Ninja, but owning it was the better option”.

Second: if I hadn’t owned my mistake – that I and I alone, not the training coordinator, not the sales team, not anyone up or down the line, had screwed up and put it in my calendar on the wrong dates, not one person would have believed me in that conference room. I’d have burnt my bridges not just with the students, but with my training coordinator, the sales team, and everyone involved. Respect is earned through hard, painful effort.

Owning your mistakes is always worth it.

Generating fewer mistakes is another story altogether, and something I’m working on for you in the form of fighting marketing overwhelm.

If you could get help on fighting marketing overwhelm, what would you want help with, specifically? Tell me in the comments!