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Crush Your Career by Learning From Your Mistakes

As we grow in our careers and our responsibilities increase, we must not only own our mistakes but also learn from them and share what we learn with others. Early on a Saturday morning before a new book release, I opened social media and learned that one of my launch team members found an error in the advance reader copy of the book. It turned my stomach a little. Mistakes really bother me, especially when they are mine.

The name of a friend who was also one of my endorsers was misspelled in the body of the book. My stomach knotted up. Misspelling someone’s name feels dishonoring. I knew it would be corrected in the final version, but it still bothered me. We all make mistakes, and it seems like I make some kind of mistake every day. Sometimes, it is a typo like the one in my book. Sometimes, it is words spoken that should have remained unspoken.

Occasionally, it is a poor decision that shows a lack of sound judgment. In all these circumstances, mistakes can be important learning lessons. But before we learn, we must recover. How do you recover from a mistake? Following are some steps you can take to learn from your errant actions:

If Possible, Apologize

Sometimes, there is no one to apologize to or no way to deliver the apology. But when you can, the apology should fit the mistake. In the case of the misspelling and because she also had received the advance reader copy, I immediately reached out to my friend and told her about the mistake. I sincerely apologized and explained that I had already informed my publisher. I assured her that her name would be correct in the published version. She was incredibly gracious in her response.

I remember another mistake from years ago. I was leaving the office late one fall afternoon. My mind was a million miles away on the work I had just left and the chores waiting for me at home. I did something inconsiderate and thoughtless because I wasn’t paying attention. On the side of the driveway that exits the campus, one of the grounds maintenance staff had piled leaves he had blown off the road to the shoulder. He may have been working on those leaves all afternoon.

On my way out, I didn’t slow down, and those leaves blew everywhere. I could see his frustration in my rearview mirror. A simple apology would not suffice for this situation. It was time to make brownies! The next morning, I drove on to the campus and pulled my car over to the side of the main road where I saw him working. I told the young man how sorry I was for wrecking his day and gave him a peace offering of a pan of brownies. It worked! Even today when I see him, we still laugh about it. A sincere apology goes a long way in recovering from a mistake.

If Possible, Correct the Error

There are some mistakes we cannot correct. We cannot take back thoughtlessly spoken words. We can cause harm that can never be reversed. In the case of the misspelled name of my friend, I could not correct the name in the advance reader copy of the book, but I did make sure it was correct for the first release.

When you can, it’s important to make the right correction. Years ago, my oldest son achieved a special academic award at school. He had worked very hard for two years to earn the recognition. It was significant to him and to us. On the night of the awards banquet, I opened the program and his name was not included for the award. He was disappointed and so was I. After a few minutes of thinking about what to do, I walked up to one of the school administrators and asked about the omission.

Instead of apologizing, she said, “Well, we don’t proofread these things.” (Yes, I promise you, she said that.) Then the situation grew worse due to the wrong correction to the mistake. When the program began, one of the school leaders stood at the podium and said to everyone in that packed room, “It has come to my attention that one of the students who is receiving the Presidential Scholar’s Award was not listed in your program. So if everyone could take a pen and write [and she gave his name] on your program, he can be added.”

My twelve-year-old son was humiliated. He was singled out and she had called him by his full name — including his middle name — two things twelve-year-old boys abhor. It would have been better if she had simply called him across the stage at the appropriate time to receive the award without mentioning the error. This example teaches an important lesson: correct the error, if possible, and make sure it’s the right corrective action for the situation.

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Do Your Best to Avoid Making the Same Mistake Twice

One of the ways we recover from a mistake is to learn from it and not make the same mistake again. Early in my business career, I made a printing error. I produced a brochure for my company, and after it was printed I realized I had misspelled the word restaurant. This was especially inappropriate since I worked for a restaurant company, and I had been a journalism major in college! Now, every time I type that word, I double-check to see that it is spelled correctly. I have never made that mistake again.

I often tell that story to my team members at work when they make a mistake. I want them to know I recognize that I make mistakes too, and that what I expect from them is to not make the same mistake twice. Unfortunately, there have been a few times I have made the same mistake twice. When that happens with one of my responsibilities at home, my husband and I discuss whether a certain task is my real talent. He is much more detail-oriented than me. He is meticulous about research, whether it is about a vacation we plan to take or a home appliance we need to purchase. I tend to be strategic, visionary, and creative.

We have discovered that sometimes I move too fast and don’t slow down for the details. Now when we are considering a big purchase, I tell him my ideas and what I think I want and he does the research to make sure we make the right decision. We realize that this works better for us. We can recover from our mistakes if we own our mistakes and then apologize sincerely, correct them promptly and avoid making the same mistakes twice.

Most importantly, we cannot be paralyzed by our mistakes. Once we have taken these three actions, we need to let them go and move on, knowing we have done our best to resolve the situations.

Dee Ann Turner, Crush Your Career. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021, Used by permission.

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