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Is it Ever Okay to Drop the Ball?

By Paige Kassalen

For years, I prided myself on being someone who doesn’t drop the ball. To me, dropping the ball meant I failed… it meant I wasn’t properly managing my time, and I would lose my team’s trust.

Dropping the ball was my worst fear, but I’ve started to have a new outlook on this concept.

Is it ever okay to drop the ball? My answer is now “yes,” and I’m working to reprogram my mind to associate dropping the ball with growth, rather than failure.

Let me take a step back. Ideally, I’d never drop the ball. In a perfect world, I should be able to manage everything seamlessly and always complete everything on my to-do list. This brings up a question though. If I can complete all that is asked of me, am I pushing myself in my career?

This is exactly why I no longer associate dropping the ball with failure, and instead look at it as a sign that I am challenging myself professionally.

Of course, this idea comes with a lot of caveats. Below are some questions that you can ask yourself if you’re wondering if it is okay or not for you to drop the ball:

Why Did You Drop the Ball?

There are times when it is okay to drop the ball. For example, let’s say you started a new job and you’re still coming up to speed on certain tasks. You’re juggling a lot, and your organization understands it will take time for you to fully come up to speed.

Another example is when you made the best decision on a path forward based on the data you had available, but the results did not pan out as expected. You pushed yourself and were trying to execute, and then some external circumstances prevented you from delivering.

In both scenarios above, you can easily explain to your teams why you unintentionally dropped the ball. But there are other also reasons for dropping the ball that are not okay. For example, you knew you had a deadline, but you kept procrastinating and eventually missed it. Not a valid excuse.

In the end, if you drop the ball and are confidently able to defend the reasons for why it occurred, then you did not fail.

Which Balls are Okay to Drop?

This question is important, especially paired with the first question, because there are some balls that should not be dropped, even if you had good intentions.

Examples of this could be something like being prepared for a meeting with your top client, ensuring that you are treating your organization’s sensitive information properly, or communicating early if you know a deadline will be missed.

As you grow in your career and take on more and more responsibilities, it will be impossible to do everything. This is why it’s important to prioritize tasks and be comfortable knowing that the lowest priority tasks might fall through the cracks.

You aren’t failing if you can’t manage everything. Instead, you are growing into a leader who has limited time and needs to invest that time on the most crucial tasks.

When Should You Stop Dropping the Ball?

This last question is tricky, because if you’re comfortable and able to manage everything in your current role, then it means you’ve reached the point in the job where you are no longer being challenged.

So, you need to ask yourself what you’re looking for in your career at that moment. You might be in a point of your life where you are happy to have some stability and comfort. It could be nice to not always feel like you’re catching up on the learning curve and putting yourself in a position to fail.

On the contrary, you might take this as a sign that you need to make a move in your career. You want to keep moving, and your current organization might not have the opportunities for you to continue to grow.

It never feels good to drop the ball, but if we drop the ball for the right reasons or drop the lowest priority balls, then this is just a sign that we are challenging ourselves in our careers.

It’s also important for us to consider what we are looking for in different stages of our careers. Never dropping the ball could be a sign that you’re ready for a change, or it could mean that you’re in a perfect position to charge back up, while having the time to focus on different parts of your life.

We need to redefine what dropping the ball means in our careers, and not let the fear of dropping the ball limit our opportunities for growth.


Paige Kassalen

Paige Kassalen has an electrical engineering degree from Virginia Tech and a Master of Information Systems Management from Carnegie Mellon. Kassalen began her career as the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Teen Vogue, and Fast Company. Since Solar Impulse, Kassalen worked in the manufacturing and finance industries to create implementation strategies for a range of emerging technology trends from autonomous vehicles to machine learning. She was the Chief Operating Officer at CrowdAI, a start-up named by Forbes as one of the most promising AI companies in 2021. CrowdAI was acquired by Saab, Inc. in 2023, and Kassalen now serves as the Chief of Staff for the strategy division.

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