My lifetime friend and colleague, Fred Miller, says:
“It’s not the mistake you make, it’s what you do with it.”
I live by that, and feel similarly about mistakes as I do about conflict– mistakes are going to happen. They’re a part of life. Without them, we are low risk, and flying under the radar.
In my work with leaders and teams, I wax prophetic about the inherent value of mistakes as fuel for innovation, radical improvement and unforeseen levels of performance. I froth on over leaders not checking the proverbial box on “mistakes as learning opportunities,” rather that they model and celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities!
I am a big believer in the value of mistakes, making them, apologizing for them and doing whatever possible to right them!
Really, I am.
I just hate when I make them.
I realized yesterday, after an epic mistake, that I really like talking about mistakes way, way more than actually making them.
The universe consistently teaches me lessons like this. Whenever I act like a smartass, I will literally trip on the curb and Dick van Dyke it through the air, coffee flying. Or, minutes after saying something ‘of sharp tongue’ I will invariably knock my silverware clanging to the floor during a quiet moment in a nice restaurant (the list goes on, but I’ll spare myself). Thank you, Universe. Recently, I gave a presentation on Courageous Conflict to our local chamber’s Women’s Business Council, less than 48 hours later, I got into a Grizzly Bear Mom conflict with another parent, and proceeded to do NONE of what I had mightily suggested the day before, and had to work my way though it, with humility and apology. Thanks again, Universe.
Today, I started a blog post on mistakes that was apparently getting a little too pedantic, so… yes, serve it up, Universe!
Here’s what happened (*cringing): I have been working for weeks on a new marketing piece for the three areas of my new consulting practice. I have literally read, changed, asked for feedback, changed, asked for more feedback, changed back to the original—until I could no longer look at it. Finally, I thought it was done, but wanted to run it by one more friend who I knew would give me honest feedback. In the absence of my fabulous social media intern from Sage College, I wrote a fun email to my friend about how nervous I was to send it, did she like it, and did she think the subject line was dorky- blah blah blah. Then, (you’re cringing now too, aren’t you?) I went into Constant Contact and THOUGHT I was just emailing it to her, but alas, it went to pretty much half of the known universe.
I realized this when a new friend and colleague sent me a reply asking kindly, “was this meant for me?”
And, then I really realized the mistake I had just made.
I FELT this realization wash over me like boiling lava, my face got hot, my stomach did terrible, noisy churning things, and my mind went blank. As if from a distance, I heard James Earl Jones’ voice coming out of my mouth, echoing across the Pridelands: “NOOOOOOooooooooo!”
I quick dialed customer service at Constant Contact, near tears, and when Troy the customer service guy answered, I started yelling, “help me, Troy! I sent… I meant… but then I clicked… cause I thought… please make it come back!” Of course, he couldn’t.
So, I decided it might be good to start breathing again.
With Troy’s help, I figured out how to call up the same piece, and I wrote a sincere, embarrassed and honest apology. Troy said it was ‘humorous,’ too, but I wasn’t quite at the laughing stage. I sent that out next, and on purpose this time.
Then a funny thing happened.
I started to get emails from people that were genuine, and warm and made me laugh. They said things like, “I have been missing the word ‘dorky’ in business vernacular” and “I liked it even more the second time!” and “I love when you screw up, it just makes you more human.” Some people thanked me for the sincere apology, others offered grammatical advice- either way, we reconnected, engaged and had a real exchange.
I often tell clients that most mistakes don’t turn out so bad, once the dust settles, and that I make more mistakes than anyone I know. It’s pretty safe to say I’m right on both counts.
But, what I also learned (again) was that it wasn’t the mistake I made, it was what I did with it. And, then, what others did with that. They joined me as a colleague, a friend and an imperfect, but trying, human being.
There’s no way to calculate the lost opportunity cost of this mistake, but I know this: It may turn out that this was an expensive mistake, but it was worth it.