Re-evaluating mistakes

Recently, I met with a CEO and as we were riffing on vision and the ideal way she wanted to see her CEO responsibilities, I asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if your employees didn’t feel they needed to come to you for every little thing? Wouldn’t it be nice if they felt comfortable making a mistake?”
“YES,” she replied with a huge exhale.

When we see our work as either good or bad, strong or weak, successful or a mistake/failure, we often miss the mark. It’s not as if there’s one way to be and we’re just supposed to find it once and for all.

When we use the word ‘mistake,’ our brains have been conditioned to judge the experience or idea as “bad.” Then our brains work hard to keep from doing that again, so any moment that even looks *remotely* like the ‘mistake’ experience will be defended against.

Let’s say you lost a client because you mentioned that you loved dill pickles. And somehow you found out that your love of pickles was a big turn off to the client. So, your brain will tell you, “Hey, no more mentioning of pickles, okay? That lost us our client.” Pickles mentioned no more.

But now, you’ve cut off a way that you are (dill pickle-loving), because one client didn’t respond well to it. To keep from losing future clients, your love of pickles now lives in the shadows. But what if the next client was on the fence and your love of pickles could have sealed the deal?

Instead, what if we reflected more deeply on experiences that didn’t go the way we hoped. We can leave the word ‘mistake’ out altogether, and just take a moment to evaluate and reflect. Your deeper knowing actually knows when you’re losing someone…and we sometimes ignore that deeper knowing. In my experience, if I spend more time berating myself, rather than reflecting on what happened and my intuition (and trust) about it, then I will repeat the lesson until I learn it.

But isn’t that a waste of time? Sure, if you spend more hours reflecting than integrating that learning for a new go at it, then yes, that could be wasteful. It helps me to take maybe 10-20 minutes to just ask myself some questions like:

  • Where do I think the experience shifted away from my expectation or desire?
  • Were there some early indicators that became known to me, pointing to a divergence?
  • Is it really a lost cause, or can I reach back out for follow up/feedback?
  • What else has this experience/idea/thought taught me that was previously hidden?

Loving the entire experience helps it stay available to you as a learning tool. Resisting something brings it back to you again. Even if you feel deep rejection or confusion or anger, what are those teaching you in this moment?

If you can write it down, even better. Seeing each call, presentation, pitch, etc. as a way to increase your learning will help you learn faster (you can start to reflect while you’re still in the moment!). Save those reflection, and go back at the end of the year and see how far you’ve come.