Finding Value in Your Mistakes
By Drew Brown
When you think about the most compelling stories, what do they have in common? Are they typically tales of unmitigated success? Are they accounts of someone who triumphed without encountering the slightest hint of failure or struggle? The best stories unfold in the midst of imperfection and opposition. We are drawn to stories of people who face challenges, make mistakes, learn and grow from them, moving forward with greater insight and wisdom.
We all strive for perfection. We expect excellence of ourselves and often demand it of others. But growth, improvement and mastery are born out of mistakes. How we respond to our mistakes shapes us in deep ways, catalyzing us towards greater care and attention to detail. Mistakes refine us. They are crucial for sharpening our skills, testing and building our character and growing in our response to adversity.
And yet, we’re terrified of making mistakes in front of our clients and colleagues. We’re quick to hide our errors. We desperately try to avoid the humiliation of our missteps. At our worst, we may even try to shift the blame to others. Everybody wants to share in the credit for success, but no one enjoys taking the blame for mistakes.
The benefits of mistakes, however, can be greater than we ever imagined. Let’s take a look at some ways that making mistakes can make us better planners, better colleagues and even better people.
1. Mistakes can expose flaws in our process
Sometimes a mistake is more than just a missed detail, it is symptomatic of a bigger issue. Whenever we make a mistake, it’s important not to just to fix it, but to examine the root cause. Sometimes our process needs an extra step of care, whether it be one more meeting, conversation, email or phone call. Sometimes it’s a bigger flaw that needs to be addressed, like not having a backup plan or needing to better research our client's needs.
It’s never fun to deal with a mistake in the moment, especially if it’s front of people we’re trying to impress. But it can allow us to revisit and improve our purpose, process and plan for events and projects.
2. Owning mistakes can build trust and credibility with our colleagues
We know how frustrating it is when a mistake is made and the person responsible doesn’t own up to it or makes excuses for why it occurred. It’s unprofessional to avoid accountability and it often changes the way we see that person. Can we trust them moving forward? Will they try to blame us if something goes wrong in the future? So many issues can arise when mistakes are not owned, apologized for and corrected.
However, full transparency and accountability can serve as a bonding force. Admitting a mistake is never easy or fun, but it’s much healthier for professional relationships in the long run. It lets your colleagues and clients know that you’re honest, that you see the same thing they do and that your character is more important than being seen as a perfect planner. Think about how refreshing it is—in your professional or personal life—when someone simply says “my fault.” You’re often moved towards forgiveness and grace in a way that you wouldn’t have been had they not admitted their mistake.
It sounds simple, but a dose of honesty and integrity will go a long way in maintaining the health of your relationships.
3. Mistakes build character
Think back to your first big mistake at your job. How did you respond? How did it make you feel? What emotions does it still stir up in you? How did it feel to have one of your errors affect others? What helped you move past it? When you’re in a new job or industry, you’re trying to build your reputation and prove that you belong. A costly mistake can shake your confidence and make you wonder if you have what it takes. That’s natural and normal.
But it’s your response to those mistakes, especially in a new role, that will define you moving forward. Resilience is a crucial attribute in the hospitality industry, and it’s not one that flourishes without some adversity and problem solving. It’s important that you’re able to bounce back, tackle the next problem and not fixate on your mistakes. It’s easier said than done, but your colleagues and customers will feel encouraged if you’re able to adapt and collaborate after correcting a misstep.
4. Mistakes can make you a better leader
There are valuable leadership lessons to be learned from mistakes as well. We’ve all been guilty of taking on more responsibility than we have capacity, and resisting a helping hand in the name of pride. “I got this,” we say, until we realize we’re extended beyond our resources and can’t do it all by ourselves. Sometimes those mistakes serve as a wake up call.
Often mistakes bring a valuable new level of self-awareness. Maybe you’ve been trying to handle something that just doesn’t align with your strengths or what you enjoy. A misstep causes you to pause and reassess. It can also infuse a greater sense of humility that will push you to better utilize your resources, trust others more often and better manage your time and expectations. No one expects you to be a superhero, and your ability to ask for help and collaboration will make you a better planner and colleague to those around you.
Sharing responsibilities is a sign of a strong, secure leader. It empowers others, frees you up to focus on the things that need your attention and helps develop the skill sets of those you’re leading. And the more you’re able to share responsibilities, the greater level of energy you and your team will bring to your event.
5. Mistakes are necessary for exploring new ground
When we find a formula that works, it’s tempting to stick with it for as long as we can. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the adage says. But when we stop seeking ways to improve or lose the desire to experiment, our methods and products can quickly turn stale.
Growth and improvement most often comes from trying new things. And more times than not, trying new things will lead to mistakes. It’s important to prepare ourselves mentally to embrace those mistakes as part of the growth process. Growth and improvement are iterative–they build upon trial and error, and learned lessons. It’s rare to test new waters and not encounter some challenges or failures. Giving yourself (and your team) permission to make mistakes is vital to improving and expanding your process and your product. It will also prove to your clients and colleagues that you’re not content and always striving to better yourself and your work.
6. Mistakes can teach you to slow down
In our busiest seasons we bounce from one task to another, checking off boxes in the pursuit of getting everything done. Sometimes we’re going so fast and trying to accomplish so much that we decide it’s best to multitask, spreading our focus over several areas at once. How many times have you made a mistake because your attention was stretched too thin? If we’re being honest, that’s probably happened to all of us.
To do our best work, it is important to slow down and make sure we’re giving the right amount of attention to the details. When we focus time and energy on one task instead of several at once, we catch mistakes before they happen. This focus also provides us the opportunity to observe and refine our own work in a way that produces greater care for details. Mistakes can teach us to take a breath, focus carefully on a specific element and look at our work as more than a never-ending to do list.
7. Mistakes can teach us to forgive ourselves and others
The hospitality and event industry tends to draw people who are perfectionist. We love to create experiences and care for others with great attention to detail. This perfectionism is driven by a critical inner voice that tells us we have to be flawless in our execution. We hold ourselves to a high standard, sometimes an impossible one, because we know others are watching and our careers demand excellence.
This is when it’s important to forgive ourselves. Obsessing over our mistakes and allowing it to erode our confidence is destructive. We must find ways, personally and spiritually, to release the burden of our mistakes for our own wellbeing.
No matter the scope of the event or project, no matter how much time and money and expertise have been poured into it, we are still flawed human beings who mess up occasionally. Even people with decades of experiences continue to make mistakes. They’re doing their best, just like you. Allow yourself some grace. And as you continue to learn from your own mistakes, extend that same grace to others when they fall short. There’s a good chance you’ve been there before, and maybe their mistake is one you’ve made in the past. Go out of your way to encourage those just beginning their careers, as well as those mired in discouragement of recent failure. Forgive yourself, and allow those experiences to shape the way you forgive others as well.
Drew Brown is a writer, producer and editor living in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. Over the last several years he’s worked with non-profit clients such as the Willow Creek Association, World Relief and Awana Clubs, International, and serves as the Managing Editor of ASPIRE.