Mistakes: painful, embarrassing and key to any growth

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You’ve done it. I know you have. I know you have because I have. You’ve just typed up the most splendid email to a potential new customer. You’ve nailed the grammar and spelling, remembered to get the recipient’s name right, attached all the requisite files, and pressed send. Marvellous, time for coffee.

Then, once the email has gone on its journey through the internet servers and landed in the recipient’s inbox, you notice it. You’ve cheerily declared “good morning” in an email you sent at 1:30pm. D’oh.

It’s a minor mistake but one you’re irritated by. How did this slip through the net? Am I incompetent? Will the recipient think I’m some buffoon? The answers to these, in no particular order, are: no, because mistakes happen, and of course not.

Mistakes happen every day, and every one of us makes them. Some are bigger than others. And sometimes we stack errors – one leads to another, and before you know it, a bad day has snuck up from the shadows and derailed an entire day. It’s fine. Mistakes happen.

The keys to getting through mistakes are more important and longer lasting than the mistakes themselves.

Firstly, own the mistake. Figure out how it happened, but only fret a little. Sometimes the reason is not that deep. It’s just a slip or a misunderstanding, something lost in translation or needing help knowing where to look. Mishaps often highlight your knowledge gap in a particular area. But that brings its advantages – you can learn from them, build your knowledge and come back stronger.

And that brings us to the second key you need to overcome an error. You need a strong team around you. Not people who will necessarily tell you “It’s fine,” but colleagues who can help you course-correct, show you where you went wrong, how to avoid it the next time and fill in any knowledge gaps highlighted when errors were made.

When you’re new to a workplace, it can be easy to be too eager and run in headfirst and make a string of mistakes because you have yet to master the status quo and what makes the business successful. Learning the broad strokes and the nuances can be difficult, and mistakes are inevitable – but having a solid team who can pick you up and steer you in the right direction is pivotal.

Even if your colleagues have more experience than you, that simply means they’ve probably made the same mistakes as you. Which means they have advice they can pass on. Lean on your colleagues – they are invaluable in building your confidence as you navigate early life in a new role.

The third and most critical key is to be kind to yourself. We’re not robots. Our brains grasp information and concepts at different speeds. We excel in certain areas; in others, it can take a moment before the penny drops. But always give yourself a break because heaping mountains of pressure on yourself may only lead to further errors. You’re human; even with 10 years of experience, you will still make mistakes.

The road can be bumpy. But even when you have moments of self-doubt and your brain conjures an image of yourself, like a distorting mirror at a funfair, keep chasing that light at the end of the tunnel.

Because on the other side of that tunnel is growth. You’ve absorbed what is useful, discarded what is not and added what is uniquely your own to the equation. You’re now flying. All those early worries and mistakes are in the rearview, and you’re all the better for them. You’re a more complete person, a more well-rounded employee with even more skills to offer your business. Congratulations. You’ve done a fantastic job.

Mistakes can be an embarrassing, sometimes painful experience. But mistakes are the seeds from which trees of knowledge grow.

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