That’s the first phrase that came to my mind last week, after realizing the mistake I made. My name isn’t A-Aron, Aaron or even Erin, but I did in fact mess up at work and that phrase rang out loud and clear in my head. It was one of those situations where shortly after you hit send, you realize you shouldn’t have. “Oh shit, I shouldn’t have left that sentence/phrase/thought in that email.” After this realization, my stomach did a flip, I began to grow warm, fret and frantically think of ways to undo what I had done. Then I had a bright idea -- attempt to retract the email from all the recipients! Voila!
It was beyond disappointing when I was met with an “email retract fail” message for every address the email was sent to. As I thought about what to do next, I recalled a situation with a colleague a few weeks ago. She made a high-stakes mistake-very visible, far-reaching, impossible to ignore. She ended up in tears over this error, over-analyzing her actions and attacking herself ruthlessly. But why? From where I sat listening, it was very clear that this one mistake was not a reflection of who she was, her capabilities, or intellect. Yet she remained laser-focused on this one error and was allowing it to impact her view of herself. Her error demonstrated nothing other than the fact she was- human. We show up to work as humans and as it would stand to reason, we will make mistakes. What was stopping me from putting my own mistake in perspective?
When thinking about it that way, my “royal mess up” could actually prove to be a really cool and effective (albeit humbling) teacher. I felt compelled to talk with my colleague, to share my misstep. I wanted her to know that despite how she had felt a few weeks back, she wasn’t the only person to have ever messed up at work. I shared every embarrassing detail of my story.
Her reaction surprised me-- she teared up. She thanked me for sharing my “major mess up” because it made her feel better to know that she wasn’t alone in her mistake. Sharing my pain/embarrassment/discomfort took some of the sting and stigma out of the feelings she had experienced. Damn it if our mistakes and failures don’t end up being our best teachers! We both left the conversation feeling good, which was unexpected.
The more I reflected on this, the clearer it is became---sharing from my vulnerability built a stronger connection between the two of us. Maybe this is what we need more of in the workplace, companies who strive to cultivate a culture where mistakes and vulnerability are encouraged and accepted. Imagine moving away from blaming and finger-pointing, and moving toward embracing the fact we’re all human, and from time to time we all mess up.
Truth be told, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses after my a-ha moment. As the day went on, I continued to be humbled by my failed attempts at additional damage control. While I was struck with the thought of retreating into a hole and not coming out until the dust had settled, instead I made the choice to walk straight into another opportunity to embrace vulnerability.
Now let’s laugh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd7FixvoKBw.