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Recovering from a Mistake

Mistakes happen. All of us make them, in both our personal and professional lives. The trick, after making one, is to keep it in perspective, counsels Columnist Charles Bursey, Sr.

At work, we are often required to make decisions or accomplish something important. At times we fail to deliver the results expected. In fact, there are times when we simply freeze when it comes to decision-making, with results that may range from mere embarrassment to something more unpleasant. The reality is that no one can be right all the time, even though that is what may be expected of us.

We may fail at something, but hopefully it won’t be the end of the world, even if it feels that way at first. Worse is when we find it hard to get beyond a mistake or failure. Instead of simply saying, “Oops,” and telling ourselves that we will do better next time, we might dwell on our mistake, which causes us to become timid and afraid to take on new responsibilities that will require decision-making, especially if there is some kind of risk involved. Why does this happen? I would suggest this may be to do with our personality type.

It’s true that certain mistakes can be extremely difficult to overcome, especially if it has resulted in serious ramifications, but in most cases, hopefully, we can move on in a positive direction. A constructive approach is to view a failure not as an end point, but rather an opportunity to learn and improve. Also, keep in mind that life in general is a learning experience and there will be many decisions along the way that will make us nervous and possibly even scare us. But when we have the courage to face our mistakes, and think them through, we can make better decisions in the future.

With experience and time, you will find that the things that made you nervous or scared are now clearly in a domain that you can handle. The key in my opinion is not to dwell overly on the past, but to keep moving forward.

When faced with a decision that poses some risk, ask yourself, “What’s the very worst that can happen?” Then try to think about how you would deal with that result.

Keep in mind also that a mistake may very well lead to some positive benefits in the future. Too often we tend to focus on the immediate mistake and consider it a disaster. Take a step back and evaluate. In many, if not most cases, a mistake is one that we can move beyond.

I myself have made several mistakes in my career, like not performing a test procedure on a piece of heating equipment during a service call because I was hurried. That one resulted in a no-heat call at 2 a.m. And then there was the time that we elected to buy a barge of oil based on the New York Harbor price only to find, after delivery, that the price had plummeted considerably below what we paid.

I have a saying that I use after a mistake:When you live in the past, you’re dead in the present, and have no future.

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