Failing hurts. We try. We give everything we have and it’s not enough. Or we try and get it wrong. The best intentions and efforts don’t guarantee us success.
It’s life. We’re going to fail.
That’s actually okay.
Mistakes don’t mean we’re a failure at life. It means we are trying. Yes, that sounds cliche. It’s also true and is one of my newest favorite quotes about mistakes.
Mistakes mean you are actually doing something.
Now, this isn’t a ‘you’re awesome and fine just as you are; stop worrying about yourself’ type of post. If it was, it would be a sure sign I was kidnapped and writing under duress.
We aren’t trying to fail. A sniper practices hours upon hours to ensure he can be counted on when the time comes to take a position. A machine operator reads instructions and asks questions.
We want to do our best and we want to succeed. This may mean anything from weeks of study, to asking a coworker a question, to setting an alarm so we remember to check if we turned the stove off.
Sometimes, we still mess up.
As a manager at Culver’s, I go to weekly meetings before the restaurant opens. One morning, I got up, ate my breakfast, settled down to write—and partway through the morning checked my phone.
I had a text from forty-five minutes earlier: ‘aren’t you coming to the meeting?’
My brain went into minor panic mode while my stomach knotted. Not only had I forgotten, I hadn’t even checked my phone in time to make it to part of the meeting. I typed out an apology, and proceeded to have a miserable, stressed out day.
Not because I was in trouble. I knew I wasn’t. I wasn’t the first one to forget. Not because any of the other managers were mad. I knew they weren’t. But I’d failed. I was supposed to do something and I’d forgotten.
Yes, I realize this is an extreme reaction and most of you aren’t as perfectionist in this area as I am. Bear with me.
In another Culver’s related event, there’d been one insanely busy shift where myself and another manager had rushed from one station to another all night to keep everything moving. We had some rough parts, but I thought it went pretty well.
A few days later, when the general manager mentioned it, he made note of some people not helping as much as they should where needed. When I got details, it turned out that comment was partly because I’d been sidetracked with other tasks during one of the brief lulls in kitchen and not noticed/helped another station that needed it.
I think that’s the only time I cried because of work.
Not because of the gentle critique or because anyone was upset at me, but because I’d tried so hard. I’d done everything the best I could. Helped in so many places. And it still wasn’t enough because I’d missed one thing for five minutes.
I learned though. I grew.
And I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t perfect. Not that I ever thought I was, but I still expected myself to act perfectly. Hint: trying to act perfectly when you aren’t is setting yourself up for failure.
Months later, when the general manager sat down for a review with me and pointed out one area where I could improve, I was able to take it and run with it. Sure, it stung a little to hear where I’d messed up and hadn’t even been aware of it. But instead of letting it depress me, I was able to take it as ‘now that I know, I can be even better.’
We aren’t ever going to do everything perfectly all the time. We need to acknowledge that so we can then move on to handle the mistake itself.
If we forget to communicate valuable information, we go to the person, tell them what happened and make it right. If we get upset, we apologize. If we break something, we fix it or get a new one.
Life is stressful enough without having to stress over ourselves too because we didn’t do something ‘just right.’
Acknowledge that mistakes will happen, then plunge into learning that new skill or working through a relationship or taking on a new job. Don’t hold back just because you could make a mistake.
Spoiler: you probably will.
Startling plot twist: you’ll probably grow and learn a lot from it.
No mistakes at all means you aren’t doing much of anything. At the very least, you aren’t stretching your boundaries.
Do your best in all you do. Strive to succeed.
But be brave enough to fail.