My apologies, I honestly totally spaced on last week’s blog post until Friday, at which point I was well into spending time with family and settling into some delightful time off. Spending time with friends and family (including a lot of driving across Northern California) was actually why I forgot. And though I feel bad about the gap, it created a perfect opportunity for today’s topic: dealing with mistakes.
Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days.* Of course we all hope that they’re few and far between, and relatively minor when we do happen — and that probably goes double if you’re as much of a perfectionist as I am.
But mistakes in some form are inevitable. The question then becomes how to deal with a mistake when we make one.
Unfortunately, I (and I imagine all of us) are all too familiar with people who don’t exhibit the best patterns of admitting and responding to their own mistakes. Ideally this is something we’d all learn well in much younger years, but is crucial that we prioritize as emerging adults before we become more set in our ways.
Even if not always easy, the steps are pretty simple:
Acknowledge that it was a mistake, in whatever capacity necessary. The exact form this takes will vary depending on the nature and magnitude of the mistake, but it just comes down to admitting you made a mistake, plain and simple.
Pro tip: It can be helpful to explain why or how the mistake happened, but spending time justifying it isn’t going to win points or help you out in the future. Being defensive is natural and understandable, but rarely productive (something I remind myself of frequently). For example, a coworker asked if I’d intended to do something for a document we were jointly working on, and when I went back and looked it was a total mistake on my part. I mentioned that I hadn’t been paying close enough attention and thought the element in question was part of something else, and thanked her for pointing it out. No big.
Apologize. Usually a general apology with acknowledgment of the mistake is adequate, but mistakes that really harmed a particular person or group might warrant an apology directly to that party.
Reminder that it’s not the end of the world. Probably. But seriously, if it’s not a mistake that did or could bring serious physical or lasting emotional harm to someone**, don’t spend copious amounts of time beating yourself up over it. Make amends, move on.
Don’t stop there. Okay, you made a mistake. Probably not the end of the world (see above), but it is important to articulate what you’re going to do to either fix the mistake if it is indeed fixable, or to ensure that it doesn’t happen moving forward. This might mean saying that to other parties affected by the mistake or simply to yourself, ideally paired with actionable steps to safeguard future efforts.
Be humble, and then give yourself a little grace. A mistake is often a setback, and can be an indicator that priorities or methods need to be adjusted. Let any mistakes you make offer you a lesson, but then allow yourself enough room to grow beyond both the mistake and the limited scope of the lesson it taught you.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!
* If you got that reference, thank you and I’m only a tiny bit sorry.
** If whatever mistake you make did or could cause that kind of harm, of course do whatever you can to remedy the mistake, but then it’s likely a good idea to find a mental health professional who can help you process through that.
(Photo is a free stock photo, please pardon the loose connection as this is a rather difficult concept to visualize in a non-cheesy way.)