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When mistakes don’t matter

By January 23, 2009How To, Politics, The Business

Mistakes? I make them all the time. I’m constantly learning, tweaking, adjusting, back pedaling. I think it’s part of being alive – it’s definitely part of owning your own business.

But the actual mistake, I’m finding, is no where near as consequential as the aftermath.

Someone asked me today what my favorite part of the inauguration was, and I responded, ‘When Obama’s oath got flubbed.’ I was so inspired by his reaction, and by Michelle’s.

If that had been me…I’m going to guess that I might have blushed, let loose a nervous laugh, rolled my eyes. (Who am I kidding, I might also have called Roberts an #%&*@!)

But, not these two. They smiled, stayed steady, remained calm. With millions, billions of eyes watching, they persevered.

Mistakes are only as big as the way we handle them.

But, this can be a hard lesson – can’t it? The event of the mistake happened – it’s over. Now where do you go from here? The decision, and the resulting action, is all yours.

Can you erase your mistake? Can you even turn it into a success? How do you handle mistakes?

Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • Angela Wilson says:

    I’m so perfect, I deal with the aftermath of other people’s mistakes… LOL!

    No, seriously, I just admit it was my bad and move on – especially if it is something minor, like a misspelling, or grammatical error I didn’t catch.

    You were talking about the Obama speech above and it got me thinking about how we speak – how I speak.

    I have a very strong personality and don’t hesitate to say what is on my mind. It is hard for me, since tact is not a virtue in my repertoire. Sometimes my mouth gets the better of me. Being blunt isn’t always best – but I was born this way.

    This is usually where “mistakes” happen for me. People get mad, insulted, want to be coddled and cajoled into making decisions for 30 minutes, rather than taking the 5 minute explanation, making a decision and moving on. This is a frustrating waste of time to me.

    I have to take step back sometimes – especially if I don’t know the people well – and try my darndest to be tactful and play the game.

    Learning to keep my mouth shut at the right times has been one of the greatest lessons of all. I still don’t have the lesson down, but I’m getting there.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Angela! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I also have a hard time keeping my mouth closed, gasp!, so I totally feel your pain. I love what you said about owning it – so true. And the power of moving on – critical.

  • Hi there! Great blog post! I thought the same thing when they tripped over their words. I thought that it is good for folks to see (especially all the kids watching) that people can flub things up. No big!
    I love that kind of thing:)

  • Judy says:

    I love mistakes! Or at least I’m learning to love them.

    Mistakes are a great avenue for building trust. Of course we all make them. And YES! what really matters is what you do afterward.

    In that moment of the inauguration, we really did get a glimpse of what the Obamas’ leadership and humanity is like-present, confident, and thorough (the 2nd oath-just in case).

    Thanks for the post!

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Lynne – absolutely. The idea for this post came to me when I was talking to a friend – she said that very same thing – when it happened she immediately turned to her kids and said, ‘Did you see that! It’s okay to make mistakes!’…..

  • Julie Roads says:

    Judy – trust and mistakes – what a great connection you’ve made. When people see how we handle mistakes (well) they understand how we operate, who we are.

  • Debra Snider says:

    Theodore Roosevelt said “In any moment, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” I’ve always loved this quote because I think it puts mistakes in the right perspective.

    We all dislike making them – that sick feeling in the pit of the stomach isn’t a happy one – but mistakes are inevitable. If we get so afraid of making one that we do nothing, well that, too, is a mistake – just of omission rather than commission. To move forward, to create results, to inspire others, to really live, we have to take action, as free as possible of the fear of erring.

    You’re so right about looking at mistakes as a way to learn. I think they’re one of the best ways to learn – they’re really hard to forget and they offer an immediate opportunity to recalibrate and set out on a better path.

    Thought-provoking post – thanks!

  • Ann Zuccardy says:

    I was just thinking about this a couple days ago. I had noticed, in the corporate world, some interesting similarities between those who “never” make mistakes and those who blame their mistakes on others even when all the evidence points to the opposite. Why is it so hard for some people to calmly say, “Gee, I’m sorry, I forgot about that meeting or I dropped the ball on my piece of the project, but I’ll get right on it now.” I’ve noticed “I’m sorry” is not a phrase I hear often in corporate America. Do people think if they admit they’re human, they’ll get fired? Or is it something else? I’ve also noticed the people who seem to never make mistakes but are very quick and smug to point out others’ errors. My conclusion: both types of people are insecure. I’m a writer. I make typos sometimes. I forget stuff now and then. I get swamped and tasks get pushed to the bottom of my pile. And I’m human. When I realize I’ve made an error, I say, “Oooops…I’m sorry,”…at home and at work. Barack and Michelle are very human.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Ann!!!! Awesome addition to this post – thank you. And, I’m honored to have you hear. EVERYONE: Ann Zuccardy ROCKS.

  • Moms At Work says:

    I’m a perfectionist. But I still understand that everyone is human. Flubs happen and you just have to keep moving. I beat myself up a lot but know that I shouldn’t dwell on those “oops” moments.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Debra…fantastic quote…I want it on my wall (or tattooed on my forehead).

  • --Deb says:

    No, no. People in Corporate America aren’t afraid that if they admit to mistakes they’ll get fired (they’re afraid of the ECONOMY for that). They’re afraid they’ll get SUED!

    And, yes, that’s a GREAT quote from TR.

  • Lorela says:

    haha. this post now justifies all my mistakes, whether in writing or in life. lol. thank you, thank you!

  • Sandra Foyt says:

    Just this week, I had taught my daughter a new vocabulary word, epitome, but with the wrong pronunciation. As soon as she used it in school, her teacher and classmate pointed out the mistake. Fortunately, both of us have a history of laughing off mistakes so it was no big deal.

    Today, she’s taking the SAT (as a 7th Grader)and she’ll make lots of mistakes, but she’s not worried. We make mistakes all the time, shrug them off, and move on.

    The greater mistake would be to allow a fear of mistakes to prevent us from taking risks!

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    I am a recovering perfectionist (perhaps a former one by the state of my house and by how often I allow myself to make typos, but I’m already digressing), which means that mistakes used to kill me. When I worked for a newspaper, I hated writing up corrections to my stories. I would try to get out of it in any way possible, sometimes by arguing with the source.(ie. You’re the one who told me how to spell your stinking name!).

    Many years ago, however, I made two really big mistakes and learned how to admit it and move on. For one, I’d profiled the best selling author Wayne Dyer. Instead of quoting him as the author of Your Erroneous Zones, I wrote that he was the author of Your Erogenous Zones. It got into the magazine. Oops! I could have just let it go, but I didn’t. I called him and apologized. He told me it was no big deal–that he’d gotten a big laugh out of it.

    Since then I’ve learned that admitting mistakes and doing anything needed to rectify them is always the best policy. People don’t judge you for making mistakes; we’re all human and we all make them. They judge you for how you handle your imperfections.

    Great post, as always!

  • Laurin says:

    I also loved that moment because it gave us such a great glimpse of Obama’s nature. Who could have predicted such a short and simple oath would go off track? In a split second he revealed the character traits of patience, kindness and humor. I tell you, it warmed my heart. Those are mad skills for a politician!

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Laurin…so great to see you hear my Twitter friend! Well, said…who woulda thunk it…and then he pulled it off with such grace. I like to believe that’s what he’s doing now as the media starts to rip him apart.

  • Meg says:

    It was an inspirational moment for me- one that made me cringe and turn away a bit, but that also prevented me from turning away completely as I was captivated by their grace- of course from President Obama, but also (so strikingly) from Mrs. O.

    And it made me want to handle mistakes with such ease.

    And humor- after taking the oath for the second time, he turned to the press and said something about going to 12 more balls.

    Excellent post, thank you.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Meg – yes, the humor – the well-placed humor – good addition…thanks for reading and taking the time to write!

  • With two 5-year olds in the house, my thinking is that mistakes are a part of learning.
    And this goes for the 5 year olds and for me!
    We can’t learn how to balance on a bike until we fall off a few times.
    And I’ve learned through my own mistakes that sometimes a cranky little girl who’s mouthing off just needs a hug.

  • Paula G says:

    Typically just keep moving forward and learn from what you can. I was listening to a Michael Neill radio show a while ago — and the question is at what point do you determine something is a bad choice or mistake. Some things that seem disappointing or a mistake now (ex: at one time I felt I should’ve gotten a particular job I interviewed for…but didn’t. That was disappointing, I wondered what mistake I made. Then two months later I learned the dept was eliminated…so was is a mistake or a blessing?).

    Either way it is good to stay present and keep going not letting mistakes get the best of you. You never know when something is a mistake or the best thing that could’ve ever happened.

  • Julie,

    Love your blog, btw. Fellow copywriter/journalist, here (and Obama Mama). Getting back to your question…mistakes…and how I handle them. With humor, almost always. I once sent out 50 resumes with the words, “rofessional proofreader” in the Skills section. For a good month I wondered why my phone wasn’t ringing. I took a look at the resume and burst out laughing. To this day, my friends and family tease me about how rofessional I am. Last weekend I forgot that I put four pizzas (in their boxes) in the oven to store them for dinner. So when I turned the oven on to make brownies, I smelled something unusual. The top pizza box was touching the heating element and was on fire. It was hard to put it out because I kept bending over and laughing. My husband didn’t share my humor in the situation.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Lisa! Thank you for making me laugh this morning – I totally needed that. Hilarious – thanks for sharing.

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