Mistakes

We all make mistakes. The question is what we do when confronted with our mistakes. There are two very common responses to our mistakes that further remove us from correction and getting it right. 1) Is to beat ourselves up and become so frustrated with ourselves that we miss what is going on at that very moment. Buddhists would say this baggage would be blinding us to the now, we can’t see what is because we are caught in what was. This is a highly predictable place to be, I have been there many times. You just can’t believe how stupid you were to have got this so wrong. This mistake throws you off your game, shakes your confidence in yourself, and all you can think of is what a dummy you’ve been.

The second 2) response to mistakes is to be defensive, blame someone else, something else. It can’t be me, it must be you. Or my mistake came because I am so busy, thus the virtue of trying to do so much for so many (read martyr) resulted in this mistake. That’s really not assessing a situation accurately and learning from the mistake. That is making yourself a martyr so others think that you didn’t make a mistake, you’re just so busy being a saint that you overlooked some small detail.

What is required in the mistake is to take responsibility, possibility (depending on time restraints) explain why you assumed one thing when another reality was staring you in the face, and then focus on getting it right this time. The pivot has to be authentic and it has to be deliberate and it has to be toward the accomplishment of the task in a mutually satisfying way.

The other day I sat with strangers to work on planning an event. It was a very personal event for the others in involved, I was only the MC. Yet in reading the materials they had sent me I had completely gone in the wrong direction, made assumptions about the material that were not true to the intent of the event and weaved in some stories from my own life that did not fit with the story we were celebrating on this future date. I realized then and there I had screwed up. I could see the expressions of the others in the room, they were not in agreement with where I was going, and as I spoke their foreheads got progressively more furrowed. Oops!

At that moment I knew I had to act quickly and decisively and pivot to the right answer. So I just put my papers down, took off my glasses, leaned forward and said, “I have this all wrong, I need to start over and I need you to tell me what you want so this celebration works for you.” I did not blame them for leading me astray, they had not, nor did I complain how confused I was. I told them why I had assumed what I thought was their intent and then we left that behind. We moved forward and they began to clearly lay out their hopes for this event and what they hoped those in attendance would take away from the experience. I listened carefully, leaning in, taking notes, being obvious with my absorption of these facts and feelings.

In the end we got it right, we found the right tone, the right words and the right narrative/theme to frame this event. Everyone was happy. I sent them what I had gathered was the content and they wrote back with, “this looks great”. It could have all gone wrong, I did not know these people, they might have lost all confidence in me, we could have been bogged down in confusing and blaming but instead we shifted from my mistake to our completion of an important piece of work.

Humility is indeed a gift from God and an all important part of our humanity.