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How to Turn Mistakes into Learning Opportunities by @projectmaven

Making mistakes on the job can be embarrassing, even humiliating. It’s humbling to screw up in a way that exposes our lack of knowledge or faulty thinking. We think we should know better. But making a mistake is also one of the truly genuine opportunities we get to learn and grow.

When I was interviewing young entrepreneurs at under30ceo.com, one of the most common pieces of advice I heard was to make mistakes, and lots of them. When we screw up, we get a visceral experience of boundaries, of consequences, of really understanding what’s at stake in our day to day decisions, and how we can continue to grow and improve.

If You Do Screw Up, You’ll Survive

It’s true. Making mistakes, while they sometimes make you feel like you want to die, most of the time won’t actually kill you. If you do make a mistake, it’s best to own up and take responsibility for the error. Hiding it or avoiding the consequences usually compounds the damage done, and makes clean up ever more complicated. Most people, while they might be annoyed at the error, will respect you for acknowledging the part you played in the mishap. Do what you can to fix things, and then move on. Don’t waste time feeling guilty or re-apologizing. Just take a note and keep it moving.

Learn How to Learn

The most important thing about making a mistake is learning from it. If you get into making the same mistakes over and over, you’re definitely going to risk not only your position, but your integrity. People are generally forgiving of an honest mistake. But repeating that same error endlessly is going to get you a quick ticket back to the minor leagues…

Enjoy the Process

A number of years back, I was working in an event coordination position without proper guidance. One time, after our team completed a technical installation at a magazine launch event, I was encouraged to hang around at the event reception and hand out business cards to some of the guests who would be considered promising leads.

In hindsight, I find my behavior rather cringeworthy, but at the time, there was a lot of anxiety about increasing company revenues, and I lost my perspective. Needless to say, when the venue owner caught site of me and my colleague working the crowd at the reception, she made it clear in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable. I felt so ashamed, like a schoolkid being chastised by the teacher.

Years later, I had the opportunity to produce an event of my own in this very same venue. When I ran into the owner again, I took a moment to thank her for reading me the riot act all those years ago. We shared a good laugh, me at the ridiculous choices I had made that day, and she at how harsh she probably was with me. I told her it was one of the best things anyone had done for me during that entire part of my career. She replied that their team actually has regular wrap up sessions after every event during which they talk about all the mistakes that each one of them made, and how they could learn from them.

Here’s another piece I wrote a few years back about what not to do when producing an event. All things I learned from mistakes, for sure. Honestly, being able to laugh at our mistakes is probably one of the best things we can do. Until the next time we screw up…

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