The longer you work, the more mistakes you’re going to make. Some will be big, most will be small, and, ideally, all will teach you a valuable lesson.
However, in the moment, they never feel quite that small. Instead, they occasionally feel so disastrous that you’re tempted to curl up under your desk and never, ever come out. Well, at least until the disaster blows over and everyone forgets about it.
But let me tell you a secret: That strategy doesn’t work. One, because if you make a mistake, people will expect you to address it. Two, it’s bizarre behavior, and if anything, you’ll draw more attention to yourself than ever.
Also, and most importantly, it’s rarely ever as bad as you think it is. Everyone messes up, and then everyone moves on. So, rather than setting up camp under your desk, approach your missteps head on.
Here are four common mistakes, all of which, I’ve personally made and survived.
1. When You CC a Large List of Contacts Instead of BCC
Let’s say it’s your very first day, at your very first job, and your boss asks you to send out an email to a couple hundred other editors in the industry introducing yourself as the new point of contact.
“Email?” You think to yourself, “Puh-lease, I’m a Millennial, give me a challenge. I can send an email in my sleep.” And then you proceed to send it out without BCCing anyone.
(Did you gasp reading that? Clutch your heart?)
Picture the fiery pits of Hell. Then picture what your inbox would look like after shooting that out into the world. Your boss, who, mere moments ago thought you were so bright and shiny, is now just sighing. Suddenly, you’re not so cocky anymore.
How to Survive It
If no one responds to the email—do nothing. The recipients are probably shaking their heads at their desks, but moments away from deleting your message and forgetting about it. However, if someone—and someone always does—replies to the entire group with, “Please don’t CC me on a mass email,” it’s time to jump into action and respond with an apology as well as a request that no one else reply all.
“Hi, I’m so incredibly sorry for making that mistake—it won’t happen again. In the meantime, please make sure to reply just to me.”
Now, if anyone else replies all, he or she will look like the bad guy. You’re instantly off the hook.
2. When You’re Late to an Important Meeting
Whether you’re running behind, you’re stuck on a conference call, or you just completely forgot about it altogether, it happens—you’re late to an important meeting. For a minute you debate just skipping it, but then your team members start texting: “Uh, where are you?”
And, because luck is not on your side, it’s in the one conference room where you have to enter from the front, mere steps away from where your CEO’s speaking. So, there’s no way you can just sneak in and act like you were there the whole time.
How to Survive It
While you may be tempted to profusely apologize as soon as you enter and start rambling off excuses (“The subway turned into a spaceship,” “My cat ate my phone,” “My assistant made me watch a Taylor Swift compilation video and one thing led to another…”), don’t. Play it cool. Not like, “Whatever, I’ll come to this meeting whenever I want to come” cool. More cool in the sense that you know it’s not the end of the world.
If you’re literally running to the meeting, pause before bolting in, de-sweat yourself, finger-comb your hair, take a deep breath, and walk in calmly and quietly. All you have to do is say (or even mouth) sorry, and take a seat.
Assuming you’re not walking in wearing a giant chicken suit, your lateness will likely be forgotten by the time things wrap up. Ensure that happens by making sure to participate in the conversation (if possible) and offer your smartest, sharpest thoughts. Then, at the end, apologize directly to the person who was speaking when you interrupted.
(Oh, and if you are wearing a giant chicken suit, major props for dressing for the job you want, not the job you have.)
3. When You Spill Something on Your Outfit
Picture this: You just bought a really cool new outfit to wear on your new intern’s first day. Sure, she’s the one who’s supposed to impress you, but you thought wowing her with your street style wouldn’t hurt. The sun’s out, there’s a light breeze, and you’re walking through the city streets without a care in the world. Life is literally a movie montage.
Then a man carrying coffee bumps into you, spills it down your shirt, and says, “Watch where you’re going.” Insert the record scratch here.
Yes—you guessed it—this exact scenario happened to me, including the fact that I had picked a montage song in my head. And yes, I walked into work covered in (someone else’s) coffee.
And no, my intern did not appear overly impressed with my outfit.
How to Survive It
It’s time for some outfit triage. Can you cover up the spill? Does anyone on your team have a stain remover? Is there access to seltzer in a vending machine? Is it possible to wash it out of your outfit without creating a bigger, more embarrassing mess (a.k.a., a giant wet spot in the middle of your crotch)? Last, but not least, does a co-worker have a jacket you can cover it up with?
If none of these options are available, just own it. It’s one day, and if someone points it out to you, all you can do is laugh it off. Assuming you don’t work with bullies, no one will carry on about it.
4. When Your Phone Goes Off During an All-Company Meeting
You’re listening, you’re taking notes, and you’re coming up with some really thought-provoking questions. Then your phone starts ringing. The presenter stops speaking. Everyone in the room turns to look at you. You debate throwing the phone at your co-worker and yelling, “It’s Donna’s! She’s always making me hold her phone! We should fire her.” Instead, you just turn bright red as you try to turn it off—and of course it’s not going off easily, because it’s deciding that now’s a good time to malfunction.
How to Survive It
Say sorry. Turn the sound down. Carry on with life.
Everyone makes mistakes at work—no matter what level you’re at in your career. The key to isn’t to panic, but instead to address it like the calm, collected professional you are.
And maybe keep a spare shirt at the office from now on.