“Did you just spill your drink on the couch?” Papa Ernst peeked around the doorway after a brief eruption of noise came from the living room where I was sitting.
Fear seized me. I scooted over just enough to cover the pool of soda that had collected like a sad puddle of oily rain on the side of the road. While my wet bum was evidence of the obvious–that yes, yes dad, I indeed dropped my drink and spilled it on the couch–I looked up with wide eyes and strangely heard the words tumble out of my mouth: “No, I didn’t.”
He shrugged and walked into the next room. There I sat, in a dilemma of my own making. If I got up, he would surely see the wet spot on our premium 1990’s era seating decor. If I remained, it would stain said seating decor, and probably my pants too. Before I could decide what to do, he walked back in to the living room and sat down. At 12 years old, I wasn’t big enough to cover the creeping wetness that began its slow descent over the whole cushion, escaping ground zero that was currently being smothered by my body. Of course, in my attempt to hide my mistake, I only made it worse.
My dad looked at me with confusion.”Why did you lie to me? Why didn’t you just tell me that you spilled your drink??”
I don’t really know why I lied, other than this innate drive within me to hide my mistakes. For no reason, even little slip ups that cannot be avoided in life–like spilling a soda–illicit a gut reaction of shame and fear in my confusing heart. I like to answer questions correctly; I like to know how to do things the right way; I like to follow the rules. When I don’t, my world is thrown into a tailspin.
I’m sure there are valiant people out there that naturally own up to their mistakes, but that is something I have had to work on…and work on…and work on. I have had to make a conscious effort to evaluate my mistakes and rework my first reaction to one that doesn’t run away and pretend like nothing happened. I have had to learn how to just exist within the drama of my misdoings, admit them to others, and learn how to grow from them.
And you know what I’ve found? There’s nothing more satisfying than owning up to a mistake, recognizing it for what it is, and letting it teach you whatever lesson you need to learn (like: don’t fill a heavy glass cup to the brim with cold coca cola, bring the slippery glass onto the couch, and try to look at your gameboy at the same time).
I will take the freedom and relief that comes from being honest about the places I’ve messed up than live in the turmoil and pressure that comes from trying to pretend like all is fine and dandy, all the time.
About a year ago, I was inputting financial numbers into an excel doc at work when I had a moment.
My oopsies was a big oopsies, the kind of oopsies you want to pretend you didn’t see and hope that no one noticed. But there was no getting around it. There were a number of very good reasons why this mistake had happened (lack of training, not enough oversight, the nature of the situation, etc., etc.) but the truth remained that I had made a mistake and I needed to do what I could to remedy it.
So, I put into practice the very opposite of what my gut told me to do; I informed my boss, I created a summary of the situation to share with the leadership of the organization, I evaluated the circumstances and landed on several reasons for how this had happened, and came up with a solution of how we were going to deal with it and make sure it did not happen again.
Even though my heart felt like an out of control jack hammer while I waited to present everything to the CEO, the result was increased trust between myself and my superiors, and the support I needed to make right what I had unintentionally done wrong.
This week I celebrated a promotion, and honestly, I don’t think it would have been possible unless I had made the mistakes that I did. Situations that were much more difficult than the anecdote I shared at the beginning have taught me that mistakes should not disqualify us, but our response to them can. If we create patterns of denial, of ignoring or refusing to identify our areas of weakness, we will never grow. We are all going to screw up at some point in our lives–whether it be huge or little–and the test of our character doesn’t necessarily come out of the mistakes that we make, but how we respond to them.
I think we are much more successful as mistake-making humans that recognize our shortcomings and humbly indemnify others when we’ve wronged them or own up to and seek to remedy our errors. We suffocate growth and opportunity by trying to convince the world we are perfect. So while I celebrated the recognition and added responsibility I received this week, I realize that it’s not due to me being great and perfect and the best employee ever. No; I’ve made blunders along the way as I’ve learned about program management and supervising and all sorts of other things in my job life. But I’ve worked really hard to be real about them, let them teach me, and invite others into the process too.
With that said, I’d like to raise a glass to the mistakes I’ve made in the last year. Thanks for the hard lessons, the brutal honesty, and the teaching moments. Without you, I wouldn’t be who I am today.