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When You Mess Up… And It’s Embarrassing

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It’s inevitable. We will screw up.

You might bill a customer for 10x their fee because the backend of the software moved the decimal place (true story). You might send an email that belittles some members and makes you look like an ass (also, true story). You might switch a setting on the router and lock yourself out of said router for 4 hours, denying access to the precious wifi for your entire building (you guessed it, also true).

We mess up all the time and there’s no way to prevent it. Being afraid of messing up stops us from doing work that matters. The fear of being wrong prevents us from moving forward.

So when we mess up, which we’ve established we definitely will do, what do we do about it?

My recommendation:

Apologize, take responsibility, accept the blame and embarrassment, fix the problem if possible, throw in something extra, and get back to work.

What you shouldn’t do when you mess up (and it’s embarrassing, which it usually is) is let the mistake compromise your self-worth or stop you from doing important and risky work. Embarrassment isn’t deadly, at least not in the modern age. You won’t get thrown out, you won’t be ostracized. Not unless you let the embarrassment stop you from doing your work.

If the embarrassment stops you from working hard for the people you’re here to serve, from being generous, from caring about your community, then yes the people will ostracize you. They will think, “this person screwed up once and instead of getting back to work they gave up. I don’t trust this person. They are, in fact, a screwup.”

When I accidentally turned off the wifi for 4 hours at Impact Hub, did I cry about it? No, I told everybody what was going on, I apologized and offered temporary solutions, then I started fixing the problem. When it was fixed, I apologized again and got back to work.

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