7 Times You Can (and Should) Learn From Your Mistakes at Work
Not all mistakes are bad. In fact, we often learn more from failure than we do from success. There’s really nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you are prepared to deal with the consequences. A life with no mistakes most likely is a life poorly lived. You must risk in order to gain reward. That said, not all mistakes are equal. Some are useful and instructive, and made in the service of personal growth. Others are stupid, avoidable, and prevent us from getting where we want to go.
Some people are so afraid of mistakes that they drive themselves and others crazy trying to be perfectionists. This obsessiveness often leads to bigger, avoidable mistakes that can really mess things up for good. Stephen Guise, author of the new book, How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism, makes a strong case for dialing back that focus on perfection. Guise recommends abandoning our perfectionist tendencies, which condemn us to be unhappy, frustrated, and unsatisfied. He suggests we replace them with imperfectionist habits, which make us bold, confident, and more open to joy and satisfaction.
Below are the stupid mistakes many people unwittingly make. Replacing them with the suggested habits may not make you more perfect, but it will help you be more successful, avoid irreparable harm, and feel less uptight.
1. Waiting for the Ideal Moment
Wait for it, wait for it, Ugh! It’s gone. That’s what it feels like when you fail to pull the trigger until it’s too late. Patience is a virtue, but you have to take action when your best judgment says you are ready. The perfect moment doesn’t exist. “In real life, conditions for work and results from said work are never perfect,” says Guise.
Do your homework and look for an opportune moment. You can always adjust your speed once you get going.
2. Ignoring Small Victories
Swinging for the fences is nice, if you’re a consistent homerun hitter. Otherwise you’ll just mount up a stockpile of failures and unfulfilled dreams. Most successful people learn how to swing for contact and take joy in getting base hits. As Guise says, “Your best chance to reach your big dreams is through small goals in quantity.”
Look at each goal as a series of incremental milestones. Monitor for small changes, good or bad. You’ll stay motivated and make course corrections easier.
3. Dreading Embarrassment
Just because you make your mistakes in private doesn’t mean others won’t see the failure. Face it: You will make mistakes and you will be embarrassed. But, that helps people see you as human. As Guise reminds us, “Being seen and even embarrassed occasionally is an essential part of life.” Embarrassment is a fleeting emotion that doesn’t last long and sharing your own vulnerability will actually help you relate better to your team.
Wear your actions proudly despite the risk. If you acknowledge defeat with grace and a smile, the love and support from others will revive you and make you that much stronger next time.
4. Fearing Judgment
Like embarrassment, judgment feels uncomfortable. It hurts to think someone thinks poorly of our intelligence, looks, or talents. But, looking to ease the pain with someone else’s approval is a trap. Guise explains, “You will never please everyone, and to even try to please a specific group doesn’t make sense, because being yourself will naturally please some and alienate others…Needing approval is a violation of your identity.”
Invite constructive criticism. Show people you trust what you’ve got to offer and ask them to help you build on the gifts that you have, then implement their suggestions using your own judgment. You may not feel awesome to start, but as you see your own growth, your confidence will bloom, too.
5. Avoiding Rejection
Hearing “no” over and over again may seem like it will end you, but Guise reminds us that rejection actually makes us stronger. “Weight lifting breaks down muscle fiber in much the same way that we’re ‘broken down’ when we fail or go through an uncomfortable experience. And just as a muscle is built back stronger, so are we as a result of the lessons we learn by attempting something and failing.”
Use each rejection as a learning experience to get closer to your goal. Make the adjustment and try again. If you perceive success as a numbers game, you’ll see every “No!” as a closer step to “Yes!”
People who feel awkward, outclassed, or unprepared may respond by totally overdoing it in a given situation. Overcompensation reads to others as insecure, or worse, insincere. Guise tells us that some people will act more aggressive and insistent, while others close up and try to fade into the background.
Offer up your humility. No one is perfect, and you can be confident in your abilities without having to brag or grandstand. Welcome the strengths and contributions of others so you can achieve together.
7. Obsessing Over Outcomes
Goals are good, necessary things. But if you devote your time and attention solely to one acceptable end, you’ll miss as many opportunities as you take. All that energy used for worrying takes away from the physical and mental energy required to be successful.
Guise recommends that you “Choose to have high general expectations and low to no specific expectations.” Be confident in your abilities, and be open to the myriad outcomes that might happen.
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