The business world can be a treacherous place, teeming with potential slip-ups and pitfalls. While there are plenty of ways we can mitigate and lower risk, the complete elimination of such danger simply isn’t possible. Every entrepreneur has to have some appetite for risk, and that means falling short is part of the experience. Even those we regard as the highest achievers in history have a blemish or two on their resume. Like the proverb says: to err is human. The only way to let a mistake define you is to fail to learn from it.
Maybe you can get away with ignoring some mistakes like they never happened, but if you’re serious about improving your business, you shouldn’t. They’re the best way to learn. Sure, your first instinct is probably to get as far away from your shortcoming as possible, but when you do that you deprive yourself of a great opportunity. Facing your mistake head on not only helps you to avoid repeating it, but cements it into your mind so when the next opportunity comes, you’ll see it coming from far away.
Too often I hear young business people being told to “forget their mistakes,” “suck it up and move on,” “don’t worry about it,” and the like. What they really need to hear is the opposite. Keep your failures close at hand. Remembering and holding onto them can end up a highly productive move, a healthy method towards recovery and better days. Mistakes can sink you if you let them. Your response, handled correctly, is what will keep you and your business afloat for the future.
This means not just confronting your mistake, but getting inside of the how and why of the entire situation that enabled it. Self-examination is incredibly important at all times, but no more so than when you need to take a long look at just what went wrong. Rather than following an instinct to avoid blame, acceptance along with introspection will be your most useful tools to growing in the aftermath.
Confronting a mistake means understanding its context. Most missteps, both in and out of a business setting, don’t happen in a vacuum. There may have been incorrect attitudes that led to a poorly thought-out decision. Perhaps the necessary communication didn’t happen. You may have simply been unprepared for a change or development that ended up hitting harder than expected. There’s no shame in looking at where you need to improve. Shame should be reserved for when you repeat mistakes that should have been easily avoided, with a little homework.
Often the most painful part isn’t the slipup itself, its the imagined damage to your reputation that comes from it. It’s all well and good to say “everyone makes mistakes,” but don’t try saying that to a client you let down. Here’s where the self-examination pays off. When you’re planning your next move, think of it as an opportunity to erase that mistake, and to build a wall between the you that goofed up, and the you that’s ready, thanks to intelligent introspection, to take on the next challenge.
Knowing that a mistake isn’t the end of your career is a powerful piece of knowledge, but usually it’s one that can only be gained through experience. Even if you hear it, it sure doesn’t feel real when you’re living out the pain of having made a big blunder. Just know this: truly being a failure is a choice you make through inaction. That mistake is only the end if you decide that it is.