how to make mistakes 101

For the past several years, I’ve been a professional mistake-maker and am highly qualified to teach this introductory college course.  My work history includes many impressive mistakes with paperwork, common sense, gray areas, school, work, socializing, and life in general!  I am currently pursuing a Doctorate degree in Making Mistakes with an emphasis in Colossal Repercussions.

But seriously.  I make a lot of mistakes.

I used to panic, berate myself, worry, and possibly cry whenever I would mess something up.  Occasionally, I still do.  But it’s absolutely true that experience is the best teacher, and I have a LOT of experience in this area.  I’ve been thinking about my instinctive reactions vs. better, more constructive reactions, and here’s what I came up with.

  • Sometimes apologies are greeted with an ungracious, “Sorry doesn’t make it better!”  And it’s true that there’s a big difference between a mumbled, “Sorry” and a genuine, “I’m sorry that I did x and I will do y to make it up.”  It’s my opinion that the latter apology does make things better.  There really is a reason that we’ve been telling kids for decades, say you’re sorry.
  • When I make a mistake, after the initial horror and guilt and whatnot, I want to make myself look better.  My natural and unkind instinct is to blame someone else.  What I’ve realized, though, is that most people see through this very easily…and nobody appreciates it.  Take responsibility for your mistake and don’t minimize your involvement.  Instead of blaming someone else, explain what you did or will do to solve the problem.  This also lets people know that you’re not utterly incompetent — you can solve problems.
  • In the course of writing this post, I’ve been reflecting on some of my many mistakes.  Some of them still bring a twinge of regret, but many of them are either funny or forgettable.  Although it can be hard to put things in perspective, it really is true that a lot of our mistakes won’t matter in a week, month, or year.  Instead of assuming that your mistake is going to end your career, think calmly about what effect your mistake will actually have.

In summary:

Bad: “Sorry!!!  You shouldn’t have left your elephant figurine on the table!”  She’s probably going to spread nasty rumors around my workplace.

Better: “I’m so sorry I knocked over your elephant figurine.  I have Krazy glue and would like to help you fix it if I can.”  I feel bad that I broke her elephant, but I know this is something we can work through.

No matter how big or small your mistake is, take it to God in prayer.  It may be a little mistake that will be forgotten in a hour.  It may be a mistake that changes the course of your life.  Maybe the mistake wasn’t that big, but someone overreacted and it became big.  God is present in our lives to guide us through problems both big and small, and he is most glorified when offer up our fragile, failing selves to him.

What is your best advice for recovering from a mistake?

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