A hundred tiny reasons

2019-05-24

When I left my first job there were a hundred tiny reasons. None were enough to justify leaving on their own, but they added up. I didn’t have another job to go to. I had no idea what to do next with my life.

In the weeks that followed I felt the shame that anyone who has left a job has experienced. I started to wonder whether my hundred tiny reasons were just lame excuses. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for the job. I was the only one who had left. Everyone else seemed happy, even if they were weirdly fascinated and impressed with my willingness to leave. Maybe I was the dysfunctional one. Maybe there was something wrong with me.

In psychology they have a concept called the fundamental attribution error. To oversimplify, it means that when you get something wrong or do something bad, you will tend to blame your circumstances. When the same thing happens to someone else, you will tend to assume that it’s because of who they are - not because of their circumstances. Good people don’t do bad things, unless you did a bad thing, in which case obviously it’s because you were having a bad day.

It goes without saying that this is bad logic. It casts you as the only reasonable person in a universe full of incompetent, evil people. But my version - blaming myself exclusively, and not considering the circumstances - is just as wrong.

Life is a complex web of factors. Asking why something happened is so complicated it’s basically pointless. Why does anything happen to anyone?

How about this: forget whose fault it was. Who cares? Figure out what you can learn from the experience, what you should do differently next time, and move on.

For me, my big question was whether I’d made a bad choice. Did I want to work in the industry at all? If my choices had been basically right, then I didn’t really have to change anything in looking for the next thing. The shame was a waste of time.

I eventually broke out of my shame cycle by demonstrating that I could still achieve things. That’s become my go-to strategy. Take on a project, improve yourself, exceed your expectations. Prove that you can do things, and you’ll have no choice but to believe it. It was your circumstances after all.