Making Mistakes and Falling on Your Sword

As a perfectionist, I have a hard time forgiving myself and accepting my mistakes. I know I’m not perfect, I just don’t really want anyone else to know it! And yet, in a quest for perfection, I also realize that a more perfect person admits when they are wrong and seeks forgiveness. Everyone loves to be right. It is embarrassing to make a mistake, even more embarrassing when others know about it.

In her article in the Huffington PostLisabeth Saunders Medlock, PhD talks about learning from our mistakes. She says mistakes teach us to take responsibility and help us have integrity. The act of recognizing we were wrong “points out what we can do differently next time.” For me, mistakes often happen when I over-commit and don’t focus. While I am still not always successful, I am trying to be more thoughtful and realistic about my commitments and promises. I am also trying to approach tasks and evaluate “crises” more mindfully and with more calm than frenzy.

Owning up to mistakes can be a relief as well as an inspiration to others. Saunders Medlock says “mistakes give us opportunities to talk through what we could or would have done differently,” which can in turn be lessons to others.

As a (mostly) “self-taught” website developer, I have made some big mistakes that you might relate to, including:

  • Moving a website to a new webhost, changing the name servers and losing all my client’s email
  • White screening a website by changing code in the functions.php file in the Editor, without having ftp access to fix it
  • Accidentally deleting all the code in the style.css file in the Editor without a backup

This is a quote about making mistakesWhat I learned from these mistakes is:

  • Don’t change the name server settings on any website unless I am sure the email is backed up and the client knows their email may be temporarily down
  • Learn how to edit A Records and MX Records to avoid messing with name servers whenever possible
  • Don’t edit in the Editor (Ok, to be honest, I still sometimes do this for minor css edits, but only when I have ftp access and backup handy.)

I have found the best way to deal with mistakes, in life and in business, is to:

1) Admit I was wrong

This may sometimes involve “falling on my sword,” by not only admitting my mistake, but asking for forgiveness and sometimes paying a price. The origin of the phrase “fall on one’s sword” meant to commit suicide. I am not saying you should kill yourself over a mistake! Today one softer, alternate definition is “To voluntarily take the blame for a situation.” The point is that admitting you are wrong is an opportunity to be sincere in your regret and demonstrate that you take it seriously.

2) Find a way to fix it, if possible

The best case scenario when you make a mistake is to either fix it so no one knows it happened, or to fix it before anyone knows it happened, and then describe any damage done and how it has been addressed/fixed. And, if you can’t fix it before it is discovered, or if someone else discovers it before you do, the best approach is to find a solution as soon as possible and let those affected know you are being attentive and doing your best.

3) Learn and don’t repeat it

The best thing about mistakes is that they are a great way to learn how NOT to do something!

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”
John Dewey

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