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Oops – my mistake.

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Oops – my mistake.

Blackboard and chalk. The sum written on the blackboard is 1+1 =3

Mistakes. We all make them. It’s part of being human. We accept when mistakes are made in the workplace and are kind to others – but not always so kind to ourselves. When mistakes are inevitable, how can we turn them into learning opportunities?

I’m a perfectionist and I live in fear of that inevitable moment when I make a mistake. High workloads, tiredness and stress adds to this pressure I put on myself. My inner voice tells me that I cannot make that mistake. It would be awful. People will judge me. And when I do make that mistake, I spend a disproportionate amount of time beating myself up about it.

I see this cycle happening with others. And I tell them to not worry, it’s ok to make mistakes. It happens. We can sort it. But it’s harder to switch off that inner voice and follow your own advice, though, isn’t it? What’s the saying…? “Do as I say, not as I do.” Or something to that effect.

So, what if we don’t ‘switch off’ that inner voice, but instead try to change the channel? Rather than considering mistakes as something to be feared, how about seeing them as opportunities for learning and growth.

After all, I’ve never made the same mistake twice (that I can recall, at least). When I’ve made mistakes in the past, nothing horrendous has happened. People were kind to me. They helped me fix it (or allowed me the time to correct the error). I made sure I acknowledged the mistake and reflected on how I could ensure it didn’t reoccur. Yes, I still beat myself up. That’s something I have to work on. I need to focus on the positive.

When learning, I think mistakes help you gain a deeper, richer understanding. It’s not enough to absorb the new information and know the theory. You have to apply it. But to really master the skills, you have to practice (unless, of course, you are one of those lucky people who excels at everything first-try. If this is you, please tell me your secret!)

I think we accept mistakes when in a learning context – the training space feels safe and you are supported and guided through the process of learning, applying that learning, making those mistakes and developing from them. But in our day-to-day work, I don’t think we always consider the ways and opportunities there are for continual learning. For me, I recognise this is part of the reason why I have feared mistakes so much. Now that I realise this for myself, I’m making the conscious choice to embrace my mistakes and reframe them as a learning opportunity. They help me do better, to be better.

And this might feel really hard for some tasks and some roles. Particularly if a mistake impacts significantly on others. But instead of giving into the fear, I think it is helpful to redirect the energy in developing mechanisms to help prevent mistakes for those high-stakes situations. It’s the catch-22/self-fulfilling prophecy that, if you fixate on making a mistake, you’re more likely to make one.

So, next time I make a mistake, I’m going to choose to be kind to myself. I hope you’ll be kind to me too.

Zoe Connell, Organisational and People Development

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