Successful people have made more mistakes than anyone will ever know. Mistakes are more valuable than the expected outcome. Ask the chemist who cooked up a strong glue and thought he’d failed–the resulting adhesive that is used by millions daily on “Post it” notes! Knowing what to do about, and with, our mistakes is one of the best success tools.
According to Thomas Edison’s records, he failed 2774 times before he discovered a working design for an electric light bulb. If Edison had given up because of the many failures, one can not guess how many years it would be before someone invented the light bulb. Edison stated to a reporter that, he only needed to know one way to design the lightbulb. Therefore, each failure was confirmation that he was one step closer to inventing a light bulb.
No matter your experience level, you’re in the flow to make mistakes in the workplace or your personal life.
1. Accept the reality that mistakes are part of everyone’s life — no matter how many degrees you have or the title on a business card. You have made mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes.
To expect yourself to be perfect and human is a contradiction in terms (sort of like jumbo shrimp, etc.) Make peace with this fact of life, and you’re on your way to a great tasting lemonade from those proverbial lemons.
2. Differentiate between the small stuff and situations that are warning signals. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Some people lose sight of the fact that those little errors (forgetting someone’s name, breaking your partner’s favorite coffee mug) are part of life (see #1). However, if the same type of situation keeps occuring — if you are scrambling at the last minute to complete a task, if your co-workers and family continually complain that communicating with you is difficult — pay attention. It is unsubstantiated, who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!” Many people attribute it to Albert Einstein.
3. Accept responsibility for your mistakes.
It’s easy to blame other people, poor procedures, miscommunication, etc. for the failure of a project or situation. That only sets you up to repeat the same errors again and again. Go off alone, sit in silence for a while, and ask yourself — “What did I contribute to this situation? How can I make it better next time? How did my behavior affect other people’s actions?”
4. Find someone with whom you can process the situation.
Seek out honest and trustworthy supporters who will not sugarcoat their feedback or divert you with too much sympathy (a little reassurance and empathy, are, however, welcome!). Ask for time specifically to discuss your mistake(s) and what you can learn from them. Offer to reciprocate (see #1!). It’s amazing how the process of actually verbalizing our concerns and challenges can help us solve them.
5. Take responsibility for your mistakes.
Share your insights with your boss, co-workers, friends, and family as appropriate. Tell them how you’ll change your behavior, or ask for input. (I acknowledge that my inability to get the statistics on time delayed the project for a week. From now on, I plan to allow six weeks instead of three for information gathering. Do you have any other suggestions?)
6. Expect that you’ll make mistakes even in your areas of expertise.
For example, in my thirty plus years’ experience working with people, I’m usually able to communicate or reach a mutual understanding with almost everyone I encounter. There are, however, those memorable people with whom I have tripped myself up. I learn more about myself, in a shorter period of time, in these situations than any other. Time and distance eventually ease the embarrassment and awkwardness, and the value of the learning far outweighs the temporary discomfort.
7. Acknowledge your mistakes with constructive self-talk.
Start by tuning in to how you talk to yourself when things go wrong. Replace that internal self-flagellation (Damn, what a klutz or idiot! It’s amazing ALL my dishes aren’t broken!) with well-grounded support and encouragement (I’m doing too much too quickly. I’ll stop and breathe for a minute and slow down.) Be sure your language is self-enhancing (I will allow myself fifteen more minutes to drive that distance from now on) rather than self-defeating. (Late again! I can’t seem to get anywhere on time!). This is especially important for those times when #6 kicks in.
8. Mistakes will occur when things are going well.
People tend to get over-confident or over-anxious when all their hard work starts paying off. The key is to strive for balance. Self confidence is important, combined with a healthy dose of reality, humility, proper perspective and enough concern to maintain motivation and forward momentum.
9. The bigger the mistake, the more important lessons it contains.
Use the questions in #3 as a starting point. As painful as it is to examine a tough situation closely, the information it will yield is priceless.
10. USE the information you gain from your mistakes immediately, and integrate it into your daily life, activities, and behaviors. The best time to correct mistakes is right after it occurs, instead of waiting until the third or fourth time.
In the final analysis, giving yourself permission to make mistakes is something that you do because that’s how you make it easier for yourself and others. You will make success a lot more accessible and a lot more joyful.
Published: March 23, 2023