Screwing up

I screw up, all the time. Mostly little stuff, but sometimes not. Most of the time I’m letting myself down – not working out when I’d planned, snacking at work, staying up later than I should because I’m surfing the internet (do people even call it that anymore?).

Nothing, though, equals the gut-churning feeling of having let someone else down. This too mostly happens in little ways, though it frequently doesn’t feel so small to the people on the receiving end – not taking out the garbage, not sending a report in time, forgetting to pick someone up at the airport, inadvertently hurting someone through a slip of the tongue.

When it’s a big problem, it can be hard to own up to. It can feel easier just to disappear and torch the relationship, rather than face the person you’ve wronged and suffer the humiliation of their just anger and disappointment. Maybe it’s an investor in a failed business. Or a work colleague you’ve let down. Even when it’s entirely impersonal, we can get bent out of shape by this feeling (I’m sure you’ve never forgotten to return a library book, then completely abandoned the library to avoid having to face the librarian). Or we can pretend like it didn’t matter that much anyway, and even try to make the person we’ve wronged feel bad for making such a big deal of it. Pointing fingers is also popular. There’s never a shortage of other people or situational factors we can blame to explain away our own failings.

A lot of the time, we don’t even know we’re screwing up. Things seem to be going well, we’re skipping down the path (tra la!), and suddenly we discover we’ve messed something up big time. Ouch. In this case it’s incredibly easy to point fingers elsewhere. No one told me, no one helped me, it was someone else’s fault! Or to focus on minor issues which weren’t your fault, and ignore the actual problem. This doesn’t fool anyone, of course, and just makes it worse in the end. “When you’re in a hole,” the saying goes, “stop digging.”

The point is, these are going to be some of your most painful, and ultimately most valuable, learning experiences. Being told by everyone that you’re perfect feels good, but won’t help you improve. Getting concrete negative feedback – if accurate – can be a great roadmap for change, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. This depends entirely upon you, your ability to accept the blame and internalize the lessons, and (ideally) the other person’s willingness to give you another chance.

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