Some lessons in life it seems I need to learn time and time again. Latest example: it’s OK to make mistakes.
Recently at work, I became aware of a major error in a proposal for funding a project. Not only was I “freaking out”, but so were other members of our team. We briefly debated the issue before deciding the clear course of action was to simply tell the truth. Yet, for a few moments, we all were in a reactionary mode. We exhibited many common responses to mistakes: looking for someone to blame, trying to hatch an escape plan, wondering how to hide it, imagining the worst consequences, anticipating lost credibility. What do all of these reactions have in common?


It’s amazing how quickly our egos lapse into pure fear and what the ego-voice can say to us: “You really screwed up, you are such an idiot, and you are going to be in a world of trouble.” It is as if a mistake can trigger a childlike fear of what authority is going to do to us if we don’t get everything right, if we mess up.

As adults, thankfully, we quickly overcame the negative, fear-based voice of ego and realized the right thing to do was to notify all stakeholders of the mistake and go from there. Honesty, truth-telling, admitting our mistake was instantly liberating. Not one stakeholder flipped out. In fact, we heard thanks and appreciation for noticing the mistake and telling the truth. More than one person said, “No big deal. We all make mistakes.” One stakeholder said our credibility as a team had even increased as a result of being so honest about our error and not making any excuses for it.

I just find it so interesting that even after years of experiences like this, the ego can still stubbornly try to pull me back into fear. Rationally, I know perfectly well that it is OK to make a mistake. If someone else makes a mistake, I am quick to forgive, yet when I make the mistake I can beat myself up and expect that everyone else will, too. Noticing this, being aware of it, allows for a choice point. I don’t have to listen to the fear talking. Instead, quickly change course, tell the truth, accept any consequences, and move on. I learned that as a kid. I continue to learn it as an adult. I can use a reminder every now and again that not only do mistakes make us human, but they are opportunities to show our true colors and to keep doing the very best that we can.