It was my most memorable mistake to date. Shortly after transitioning from an intern to a full-time employee at my company, I was emailing my partner about my frustrations at work. I was in a near empty office on a Friday—a summer Friday to be exact, which meant everyone on my team worked from home. My boss had scheduled a meeting for us, but she too was out of the office. For greater context, I was also, at the time, feeling invisible and unrecognized at work. I felt like I was still an intern. To get all of this pent-up energy out, I forwarded an email rant on to my partner. Three seemingly long minutes had passed when I realized she had not yet responded. I checked my email. I had not send it to my partner. I sent it to my boss. Before this incident, I logged all of my mistakes in my office notebook. “Mistake #0007: CC’ed the wrong person on an email.” “Mistake #0019: Missed a global conference call.” “Mistake #0028: Sent a brief to CEO's executive assistant with four typos and two grammatical errors.” “Mistake #0037: Left my laptop at home—again.” Whenever I made a mistake, big or small, I immediately wrote it down, after which, I gave myself 30 seconds—and only 30 seconds—to get up, walk over to a window and willingly experienced the passing tornado of shame, regret, embarrassment and guilt in my head. When those 30 seconds were up, I let all of it go. I gave myself time to own up to my mistakes, understand how they were made, rectify them if possible, and then, most importantly, release them. “You messed up, and no one died,” I'd tell myself. “The world did not end.” But it can surely feel that way sometimes. Everything feels blown out when you're keenly focused on it. Like having something caught in your eye. It feels like a boulder because all you can think about is how uncomfortable it makes you, but then it turns out to be the tiniest bit of lint. (Unless, of course, you wear contacts, then my sincerest condolences.) Until I was able to calmly see a mistake for what it was—a mistake and only a mistake—instead of as representative of my entire being, I couldn't move forward from a slip-up. I held onto my mistakes and they held me back.
After sending that email, I sat in a phone booth in horror. I wanted to cry and scream. My head was throbbing and my throat felt tight. The shock of my mistake had me frozen. Had my brain scrambling to fix what I'd done. What happened next changed my career trajectory. My boss, moments later, walked pass my booth with a coworker. Later she called me into an empty office for a meeting. Before she could say anything, I apologized. I took ownership for what I'd done even though it made eyes sting on the verge of tears. Then, the best thing happened. My boss asked if I was unhappy at work. We ended up having an honest and transparent conversation about how we could ensure I was growing and succeeding. From that point on, I started standing out and excelling at work like I hadn't before.
Separating our mistakes from our self-worth is the best way to move past a mistake you made. Instead of harboring and letting it paralyze you, get it out the best way you can so you can learn from them. Making a mistake doesn't have to mean we are inadequate or incompetent or we should just give up and go home. It doesn't mean if we mess up once or twice or forty times, we are less brilliant, brave or worthy of the respect, happiness, love and success meant for us. It means we've always got some more room to grow. It means we’re human, we don't know everything and we likely never will. It means if we go after something bigger than ourselves and fall short, at least the world didn’t end.