Fear & Failure At The Leadership Academy

One of the honors I’ve had this year is joining several of my fellow young lawyers for a “leadership academy” put on through the Massachusetts Bar Association. We all made our way out to Worcester this week, despite the frightening weather forecast, to listen to our distinguished speakers, and then meet each of them in a small roundtable discussion about their careers.

Highly distinguished people tend to have impactful things to say. And this was no different. I’d like to highlight some of Wayne Budd’s comments. Attorney Budd is the former US Attorney for Massachusetts, but has a wide-ranging career in many high-profile fields. We should all be so lucky to work in such a variety of contexts. To say he was inspirational is understating his impact.

Attorney Budd spoke about the three R’s: risk, resilience and responsibility. I find these so interesting because they all inherently focus on the potential for failure. Taking risks (knowing you may fail), practicing resilience (because there are days you will fill) and taking responsibility (on the days you do fail). These are such key lessons, because these three words hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Risk often comes with the greatest reward, but it may not be on the first try, and it may not be on the tenth try. But we have to continue to be risk-takers, or we (ironically) risk stagnation.

Resilience is probably our greatest struggle. On the days when you royally screw something up, it’s hard to take a look at what happened, and pinpoint how that failure happened, because sometimes it feels like we’re harping on the negative. Or we’re just being an ostrich, not an entirely unattractive option. Point being is it’s hard to take an honest look at our failures, learn from them, and then move onward. Resilience in the face of really tough days is probably the single most important attribute we can bring into our careers.

And, finally, responsibility, for the good and the bad. Being able to take responsibility is key when working in teams, but also for personal accountability. Take responsibility for our failure, and also take responsibility for our successes! Sometimes, it feels like acknowledging our successes can be just as hard as acknowledging the failures.

I also seized my opportunity to ask Attorney Budd about fear, and the role it may have played in his career decisions. He was so honest about it. Attorney Budd explained that he was always a curious person, looking around for opportunities that would stretch him and challenge him, and that he nearly always entered a job worried about how he would learn, and how he would perform. But he never showed it! He used his fear as a motivator, and presented his best self to the world.

It was a wonderful Monday afternoon learning about fear and failure at the leadership academy.

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