It’s not a fuck-up. It’s the success tax.

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Oh, shit.

Ok, fine, it is a fuck-up.

You sent the email to the wrong target list. You used confidential numbers on the presentation’s key slide. You missed a security concern and the website crashed.

And now, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to beat yourself up for quite a while.

And people will tell you that failing is your path to succeeding. And you can imagine cheesy memes with a faded dying flower or a cat reaching the top shelf or I dunno, I hate those memes.

But what you really need to know is… You fucked up. You did. But now I want you to lock yourself in a bathroom stall, breathe deep, and…

Breathing deep is not hard. Even a not-newborn can do it. Just lean back on that bathroom stall door, close your eyes, and breathe a few times, down through your rib cage. You’re not too much of a corporate hot shot for that.

Are you dead? Is your cat dying? Has a pandemic overtaken your hometown? No? Ok. That’s something. Do you have an apartment to go back to? Are you making rent? Do you know where your next meal is coming from? Good chance you’re going to live through tonight. Decent start for moving on.

I think you already know this, because you’re locked in a bathroom stall. Face the facts: it’s not a bad dream, you made a mistake. You know who else made mistakes? Napoleon, that guy screwed up bad. Also, Eve. Abe Lincoln never should have seen that play. In fact — I assure you — your CEO has made tons of mistakes. In fact, you can probably count a few on at least one hand. Lean in to that. Think about the biggest egos in your office. They’ve all fucked up. Hopefully you’ve witnessed it once or twice. Imagine them 30 years younger, throw on some acne. It’s the start of coming back down to Earth and hopefully unlocking that bathroom stall.

Do I really have to explain it? Open YouTube, search the cutest thing you can think of (tea cup pigs, a newborn calf trying to stand up, twin babies dancing, whatever does it for you) and watch the puppies snuggle each other and let yourself smile. Physically smiling will help — laughing is even better. Watch something guaranteed to do that. Even if it’s a Louis CK clip; just this once. No one’s in the bathroom with you.

Damage control — set aside the pity and start fixing what you broke. You’re a good worker, a decent person, and you have time to berate yourself later — fix the issue, turn it around, apologize, and then you’ll need to berate yourself less. Time shall heal, but not before you turn this thing around. Inaction means you failed. Action means…

Because here’s the thing. Every fuck-up by an earnest, hardworking person with a moral core is actually a payment towards their success tax. If you’re worth your salt, you’ll NEVER make that mistake again. In fact, you’ll teach everyone you know not to make it. You’ll become a better problem solver as you get into stickier situations in your career. Like any muscle, the one that fucks up and then gets you back on your feet will remember, and execute, time and time again. You’ll be the kind of kickass teammate everyone wants around. You’ll become the kind of leader everyone wants to follow.

That’s the success tax.

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Taking notes. I’m curious. This is a series of insightful articles with career and marketing themes. I write (a bit more often) at

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