How To Deal With Huge Mistakes?


So you spilled some coffee on your supervisor, took too long on a personal call, or promised a little too much to an angry customer. Did you wreck your Dad’s car?  That sounds serious.  First of all, take a deep breath.  Hey, we all make mistakes.  Even the best leaders make mistakes.

Huge mistakes can be swung on their positive side. Don’t get me wrong, it does feel like the end of the world when we botch the simplest task in the presence of so great a cloud of witnesses. I am not underestimating the way we respond to our failures and mistakes.

What good can come out of mistakes?

I simply want you to see that there is always something to be gained from our failures.  Successful people fail far more than the average and mediocre.  They hit bigger walls and fall from higher heights than the most of us, sometimes enduring very public humiliation in the process.  They try more than the average person, to push the boundaries of both expectations and possibilities.

Failure is therefore a byproduct of their experimentation.  It doesn’t sound so bad when you look at it that way, right?  Those who do not expect anything are never disappointed.  Anyone who is currently achieving anything is also risking failure.

In a seminar I attended some years back, the presenter mentioned the efforts of a top earner who graced the seminar.  He said, “The only thing that separates you all from him is that when moving out to reach his goal, he got more ‘NO’s’ than you did.”

Hmmmmm.  What a fascinating concept.  Paradigm-shifting, in fact.  Running headfirst into failure accelerates your success?   Each rejection he received made him even stronger.  Eventually, he went through enough ‘No’s’

Mistake vs. Transgression

While reading Michael Hyatt’s blog, I read a fascinating post about the difference between a mistake and a transgression.  This is huge because they determine the moral and emotional path you must take to recover.   When you make a mistake, it is usually an unintended mishap.

A transgression, however, is knowing that what you are about will disobey God’s moral standard or cause some social or emotional pain to someone around you, and doing it anyway.  If it’s a mistake, you can just skip to the next step.

If you have sinned or transgressed, the first priority is contrition.  Doing what is necessary to restore peace with God and Man.  If you don’t, the seed of ill intent will remain in your heart.  From my own experiences, I’ve learned that it never just goes away.  Malicious intent grows and resurfaces at random times in the future if you do nothing about it.

1. Mistakes aren’t all bad

The first and most essential step in recovering from a fault or mistake is learning that all mistakes aren’t completely bad.  That means they are good for something.  The absolute first step is to evaluate the mistake to see if there is any redeemable meaning to the foul-up.  Is there any good that could have come out of this mistake?

2. Mistake vs. Experience

I have a firm belief when it comes to qualifying a mistake.  If you are in pursuit of where you’ve never been before; if you’re stretching and striving, you will make mistakes.  Because of this, I don’t consider them mistakes per se. These are experiences.

Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.  Now, if you (having ‘experienced’ the incident) repeat the same failure again.  Then, it’s a mistake.  If you get fooled twice with the same trick, shame on you.

3. Sorrow : Gratitude Continuum

One of my favorite lessons on the topic of mistakes and recovery is what I like to call the Sorrow : Gratitude Continuum. This is because these two, like fraternal twins, show up at every mistake you make.  They are like alternate dimension both waiting to suck you into their vortices.

Whenever you stand to consider the pain of what you messed up, there is, at the same time, on the opposite side of the same coin, something to be thankful for.  If you spilled coffee on your boss, sure you might have to hear an earful, but you can, in that same moment be thankful your Hazelnut Spice Coffee didn’t give her 3rd degree burns.

How about this one?  The next time you’re late for a meeting and the room is tense, don’t rush in apologizing 500 times expressing how sorry you are.  Focus on thanking everyone for their noble and magnanimous (I even dare you to use that very word, too) disposition towards your lateness, acknowledging their patience and understanding. You see how that works?  You have a choice for focus on what you did wrong or find something to be thankful for.

4. Keep a goal in mind

A great way to get out of a situation that stops the whole show is to quickly resume the show.  You can minimize the amount of time wasted on analyzing a mistake, by helping the person to focus on the solution.  Well, what if you don’t have a solution just yet?

You don’t always need a solution to a mistake.  You would do well to have a vision, though.  Everyone loves an underdog.  What attracts us to the comeback kid is his resolve and determination.  He will NEVER give up.  Share this same passion, and you will create good will in anyone who hears you.  “This won’t happen again” doesn’t quite have the same force as,

  • “I will practice my route until I master it.”
  • “I will plan better and anticipate your needs.”
  • “Failure is not an option.”
  • “I will upgrade my equipment”
  • I am constantly improving my skills.”

5. You’ll get through this

Last, but not least, remember that life doesn’t end at a disappointment or failure.  Life will go on, and so will you.  Do not underestimate the power to repeatedly telling yourself, “You’ll get through this.”  It works.

So, the next time you make a mistake, take some time (even though you won’t have much) to use these tools and you will see mistakes as opportunities to grow and improve.

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