Career Lessons: How Not to Undo Your Success

Published: Apr 21, 2011

Topics: Workplace Issues       

Imagine the following scenario: you're a member of a highly successful team that wins a major industry award, which you collect on behalf of your team. On the way home from the ceremony, you drop the award and it disappears under a passing vehicle. What would you do?

Sound too outlandish to be true? Not in the world of sports: that scenario is almost exactly what happened to Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos just yesterday. Except that he wasn't alone taking the award home: he dropped the Copa del Rey—one of Spanish soccer's two major trophies—from an open-top bus during a victory parade through the streets of Madrid. As if that wasn't bad enough, the cup then disappeared under the bus' wheels. Oops:

As career blunders go, this one is unlikely to affect much more than the hue of Ramos' face: it's a mistake rather than professional misconduct. But, given the public nature of the gaffe, his response to it may well have some lessons even for those of us who aren't paid a king's ransom for our athletic prowess.

A recent post over on Vault's consulting careers blog offered advice on how to recover from rookie career mistakes. The piece listed 5 main action points:

  1. Own the mistake
  2. Do some damage control
  3. Learn a lesson
  4. Move on
  5. Don't do it again

So how did Ramos' response fare against that list?

Owning it: Fail. Consider the use of the passive voice in this gem of a line from Ramos, right after he dropped the cup: "The cup has fallen!" Even in the moment, his first instinct was to disassociate himself from the action.

Damage Control: Pass. Initial reports suggested the trophy had been destroyed. But Ramos insisted via Twitter that "it is fine," quashing that storyline despite the fact that no-one has seen the cup since.

Learning a lesson: Fail (so far). Whatever else he may have learned, Ramos still seems confused by the notion that the trophy is an inanimate object. Consider this account, from the UK's Guardian: "Ramos joked about the incident on Twitter on Thursday morning. 'There has been a misunderstanding about the cup,' he wrote. 'It didn't fall, it jumped when it […] saw so many Madristas [Real Madrid fans].'"

Moving on: Pass. See above. He's clearly moved on already.

Don't do it again: TBD. Given that the Copa del Rey was Madrid's first trophy since 2007, there's no telling when or even if Ramos will have the chance to hoist another piece of silverware. But then again, the club remains very much in the running to take home the most prestigious prize in European soccer this year: the UEFA Champions league.

Final Score: 2:2, awaiting a tie-breaker (and more news on the state of the cup which, as yet, remains unknown). If Ramos were an ordinary employee, he'd likely be sweating it out at his desk this morning, praying the HR chief doesn't drop by for a chat. But his penalty will likely be high enough: suggested nicknames are already flying thick and fast, and some will undoubtedly follow him until the end of his days. Proof positive that, if your gaffe is big enough, you'll never live it down.

The Guardian: Real Madrid player Sergio Ramos drops Spanish cup under a bus.

--Phil Stott,

*Update: The cup either survived the fall or someone pulled out a replica. Either way, it's on display at Madrid's stadium, and looks none the worse for wear.

*Update 2: Turns out there was a replica. ESPN reports that Madrid will have to replace the original trophy, which was "destroyed." According to the jeweler who made it, "It was a fall of five meters, a bus ran over it, it has lost pieces, the base is destroyed and the rest is dented [...] I am not sad or even angry. These things happen, it will be another anecdote to be told in the future." Which is just about the attitude we'd want from someone after a major career gaffe too.