What Good is a Mistake if You Don’t Learn From It?

mistakes - oops!As young professionals, we’re often thrown into things at work and expected to run with them. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – having to figure things out on our own and implement them without previous experience represents an incredible growth opportunity. With that growth, though, will also come mistakes.


The other day, I made a mistake at work. The details aren’t really important – it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was definitely something that I was completely responsible for. The ensuing phone call with my supervisor was more than awkward, and I had to act immediately to handle the situation. I think the four steps I went through may well serve as a framework for the future – and though I’d like to think I’ll never make a mistake at work again, that would be completely unrealistic.


Step One – Investigate:
Before rushing to any conclusions, you should look back at what happened. Learn where the error was made and why, and see if there is something you may have overlooked. Perhaps the mistake wasn’t yours – maybe a name was listed wrong in a document, or your instructions were wrong. Either way, you need to know what happened.


Step Two – Take Responsibility:
In my case, there was no question that the mistake was my own. I probably could have dug around and found some sort of lame excuse that took part of the blame off of me, but what’s the point of doing that? I messed up, and I fully admitted it. I know that my supervisor appreciated me taking ownership of the issue and apologizing for what happened.


Step Three – Look Ahead:
Sometimes, the mistake that was made can be undone; this was not the case in my situation. However, that’s not always true. In my circumstances, what was done was done. I knew, though, that I needed to figure out a way to ensure that this didn’t happen again in the future. As soon as I got off the phone with my boss, I came up with a system to put in place to ensure everything that we do has two sets of eyes on it without becoming a burden on other staff members. I immediately communicated this new plan with my manager, who seemed to appreciate it and agreed that it would work much better.


Step Four – Move On:
Being called out by your supervisor is difficult, especially for those of us who are perfectionists. It happens to everyone, though, and it’s an important part of learning and professional growth. After I talked to my boss, all I wanted to do was go home and binge on ice cream and Cheetos. I didn’t, though – instead, I went to dinner with a friend and went about my life. I had done all I could, and it would have been completely unhealthy to let something like that bother me when there was nothing more that could be done.


In essence, mistakes are part of life. And typically, they can even be good – they remind us that we are all humans, and they represent a chance to adjust the ways in which we do things to ensure that such mistakes happen again. After all, what good is a mistake if you don’t learn from it?


-Alex McNair, YNPN Atlanta Marketing Committee Member