If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.
– Tallulah Bankhead, actress (1903 – 1968)
Mistakes. They scare us, embarrass us, and sometimes scar us, yet they may be our best teacher.
So why are we so afraid to make mistakes?
Perhaps you’re a perfectionist. Or you dread the thought of telling the boss about an error. Many people worry about the impact a mistake would have on family.
Yes, certainly, some mistakes bring horrible consequences. But in most cases, we can — and should — view them as a lesson that will make us better next time.
Years ago, while preparing to move into my first house, I noticed the electrical box had some blank circuit breaker slots. I brought new breakers to fill the empty slots. It’s a pretty simple fix, but I accidentally touched two contact points and received quite a zap. It was a tremendous wake-up call; a reminder of the need to respect the dangers of working with electricity.
So, I made a stupid mistake, and although no damage was done, the “bite” I received at the electrical box serves as an ever-present reminder to exercise great caution when working with electricity.
Let mistakes happen
In the 1992 movie, Mr. Baseball, Tom Selleck plays an aging ballplayer given a last chance by a team in Japan. In one scene he speaks of mental shift that took him from wanting to hit the ball when batting, to not wanting to miss. A seemingly subtle statement on the surface; more profound in action.
Simply put, he was afraid of making a mistake. When the game is on the line, great players want the ball. In the office, high performers want to give the critical sales presentation, tackle the toughest projects, and answer the CEO’s most difficult questions.
If you’re the boss, create a culture that accepts mistakes. People know when they’ve screwed up, yet some bosses make it a point to rub it in. That’s counterproductive. A staff afraid to fail will second-guess itself, and produce work that falls short of a more confident team.
People generally know when they made a mistake —let them off the hook and they’ll appreciate and remember the gesture.
Like Selleck’s character, you can confront and overcome your fear of mistakes:
- Remember that you’re human, and everybody makes mistakes. This includes your boss, clients, and coworkers.
- Acknowledge that you may fail, but will be okay. Then envision how you will succeed.
- When you make a mistake, fess up. Acknowledge what went wrong and take responsibility. Share what you learned, and if appropriate, how you plan to fix the situation.
- Practice, practice, practice. A singer performing in front of thousands of people has spent hundreds of hours preparing.
- Take risks. People who take the safe route seem to magnify the impact of mistakes. The more you try, the better your odds of success.
Your turn. What mistakes brought your greatest learnings?
When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said ‘No, I made a few mistakes.’
– Steven Wright, comedian