Humans make mistakes. Unless you are an alien or a zombie or a creature in a human disguise, you have most likely said or done something you shouldn’t have at some point in your life. Mistakes can injure opportunities, damage relationships, and they can make you feel incompetent, but the most critical part of making them is to use them to your advantage. That’s right. That old mantra: Learn from your mistakes.
In the last few weeks or so, I have had some of these “insightful learning moments”, which is just a feel-good way of saying I made a lot of really stupid blunders. Granted, I am a perfectionist, and I am more acutely aware of my own failings than anyone else on this planet, but I will also be the first to turn all my less graceful, less intelligent moments into humbling and positive experiences.
Here’s a few things I have learned:
Don’t associate your name with bad work
Emails. Letters. Resumes. Internet “About Me” profiles. Take a second glance at everything you write and make sure it is well written. Don’t rely on spell check alone. Your name is tied to your work and every misspelling makes you less credible. If you expect someone to take the time to read it, take the time to craft it. Are you addressing the recipient in the correct way (Ms., Mrs., Mr., Dr., Professor or are you on a first name basis?), and are you absolutely certain of the gender of the receiver if you are using a gender-specific title? Take out the jokes and smiley faces, but be positive and genuine. With everything you post, send, and say, maintain a consistent and professional image across the board. It’s better to be overly formal than mistakenly casual.
Remember everybody’s name
At the beginning of this week, I called a coworker three different names before realizing all three of them were wrong. Talk about a bad Monday morning. Save yourself some embarrassment and get names down as fast as you can, first and last. It’s the first personal thing someone tells you, so forgetting it may be sending a message that you find that person forgettable and unimportant. If you are the type of person who struggles with names, try creating associations and visuals in your head (Ex: Taylor looks like a runner and might be in Track). It might seem silly, but if you are a new employee and faced with the task of memorizing many names in a short amount of time, it works like a charm.
Don’t guess, know
Present yourself in the best positive light, but don’t pretend you’re an expert. If someone asks you a question, don’t guess. Tell them you’ll find the answer they’re looking for and get back to them as soon as possible. Be upfront about yourself and what you have to offer, and never craft a persona to please other people. Set aside pride and ask questions if you need clarification or are confused about what is expected of you. Pretending to be someone you’re not or to understand when you don’t will put you in some sticky situations.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario:
Boss: Hey Emily, are you a big football fan?
Emily: I watch… from time to time… man, those Vikings, are… sure something…
Boss: <insert anything football related>
Emily: ….um…. excuse me…(runs away)
Take time to reflect
How would you do things differently if you are faced with a similar situation in the future? Nobody likes dwelling on his or her own failings, but don’t skip over this part. If you need to apologize, think of what you will say in advance and say it to the people who need to hear it. Don’t blame, but take personal responsibility and assure them you will do better next time. After that, stop thinking, give yourself a clean slate, and don’t make the same mistake twice!
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