WIIAWO Issue #1: What if I make a mistake?

Whether I'm writing an email, packing up an order, or engaging in conversation, my most common insecurity is, What if I make a mistake? What if I overlook an error before hitting send? What if I say something wrong?

The fear of making mistakes often delays my actions, like leaving completed emails in my drafts, or prevents me from fully participating, like hiding out in the bathroom at social events. 

Last year, I received my first large order from a national retailer. The order came with a thick vendor manual that detailed their specific packaging, packing, and shipping instructions. While this was a reason to celebrate, I mostly felt anxious about messing up an order I hadn't even said yes to. 

The fear of making mistakes makes me not want to try at all.

1. Mistakes are inevitable

It's been helpful to reframe mistakes as an inevitability rather than a risk.

It's really a question of when I make my next mistake, rather than if. So when I slip up, instead of scolding myself, "I can't believe I let this happen!!" I try to remind myself, "Oh yes, I was due for another mistake; it was bound to happen eventually."

We are all first-time humans, so of course we're not going to get life right every single time. We will even make mistakes with things that are easy or that we've done before, because we're people, not robots. We get tired and hungry, experience off days, and have flawed judgment, memories, and concentration. Mistakes are unavoidable.

2. Mistakes are how we learn

Mistakes are not only inevitable, but they are also truly the best way to learn. There's only so much we can figure out by ruminating at home (believe me, I've tested the limits of this); at some point, we just have to try.

Remember that large order I got? I did accept it, and predictably, ended up making a mistake; I miscounted and packed the wrong number of cards in one of the 12 boxes, and got a penalty deducted from my payment.

Although it didn't feel good to see that penalty, it was far less than I had imagined in my nightmare scenarios.

And it was a small price to pay for the experience of actually going through and learning from the process. Because I did it imperfectly once, I was able to build a better process, which has minimized (although not eliminated!) fear, time, frustration, and mistakes when it comes to fulfilling large orders.

3. Mistakes humanize us

Sometimes I actually appreciate being on the receiving end of a mistake. When I get an email with a typo or a follow-up email that says, "Oops! Forgot the attachment!" it actually makes me fonder of the sender, because it feels like we've broken through the facade that we are email-writing bots and now we can just be people.

One of my favorite emails came from a client who was late in providing some information, and when I followed up, she replied, "I am so glad you emailed me. This fell off my plate. I just picked it up and put it back on my plate." Her honesty and humor, and her fallibility, made me more excited to work with her.

Mistakes humanize us.

4. Things will likely work out anyway

Most mistakes don't have irreversible and disastrous results:

If I make a mistake in an email, I can reply, "Sorry, I made a mistake in that last email!"

If I send the wrong product in an order, I can offer a refund or resend the correct item.

If I misspeak, I can say, "I apologize for what I said earlier."

Sometimes people will still be upset (stay tuned for next week's issue on getting hard feedback!) but generally, people are understanding.

Turns out, my mistake didn't ruin my relationship with the retailer or keep them from placing a more orders. After all, everyone makes mistakes.

Do you have your own story, experience, or advice about making mistakes? I'd love to hear it! Leave a comment below.

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