It happens to all of us. We are moving too fast and we send an email the wrong person or a private message is sent to a group chat. In my case, when I am moving too fast I am a poor scanner producing terrible typos or missing important information in a document.
Too often these gaffes have torn down the professional reputation that I work hard to build up.
My first instinct might be to argue that my oversight does not matter. Through years of experience, I already know that is a losing argument. My next instinct is to want to crawl under the covers and hate myself. Of course, not only is that not productive, it hurts a lot. Hating on yourself is an incredibly painful activity.
To pull myself out from the covers and move forward, I have developed a few other techniques to deal with my career gaffes, because no matter how good my intentions are, I know I will continue to commit them.
1. Own it
I made a mistake, it is my mistake, I own it. I don’t try to blame others or the lighting, or that I was missing my glasses, or that someone else was supposed to do something else.
Whenever someone else makes a mistake and I see them running through all these excuses I feel like my time is being wasted with reasoning rather than results and my trust of that person begins to fade. Own it, apologize for it, and then fix it if you can.
You can turn a gaffe around by showing that you are coachable, that you are focused on results as opposed to your own ego and that you are easy to work with.
2. Forgive Yourself
I may not be forgiven by those who were affected by my gaffe, but it is vital that I forgive myself. Sure, I still might call myself many harsh names and want to physically beat myself up but at the end of the day, I have to find a way to forgive myself so that I can move forward. It does not matter if others don’t forgive me. They can walk away. I am not able to get away from myself.
3. Learn from your Mistake
Why was this mistake made? This is not about finding excuses but finding reasons and figuring out what changes need to be made to keep this mistake from happening over and over again. More often than not the mistake is made because of a bad habit, such as my habit to move too fast or have multiple things going on at once. Habits are hard to break and most likely this was not the first time I made the mistake and will not be the last. Each time I have to remind myself why the mistake was made, feel the pain, and once again make a commitment to change my habits.
4. Accept the Consequences
Some of my mistakes have cost me lots of money or my reputation or friends or the opportunity to work with really cool people. It sucks, it really does. I could wallow in the depression of what my mistake cost me or I could decide that I live in a very big world with lots of other cool people and opportunities and focus on finding out what might be next for me.
I accept the consequences but I don’t let the consequences stop me.
5. Move On
Whether or not I lost anything from my gaffe, I am ready to move on. If I am still working with that client or team that was affected by the gaffe, I don’t bring it up again after I have apologized and fixed it. People have short memories and if I am not screwing up constantly they will forget it and all the good that I am working on will stay top of mind. If I don’t move on then I am just keeping the mistake top of mind, not only for those involved, but for myself as well, and that is only going to get me deeper in a hole full of career gaffes.
This post was inspired by the gaffes I made today. Not one, but a few. I wrote it as a way to coach myself out of the self-defeating wallow of sorrow. I hope it helps others as well.
In one big sigh, I finally released all the frustration and disappointment I have been carrying around for several months. It caught my husband’s attention and with immediate concern, he asked,
“I just have so much to do.”
I am sure this confession was confusing to him. For months I have been acting like I have everything handled, things were slow but that was a good thing. I needed some downtime. Money was still flowing from other sources. In my mind, and from what he understood, I was doing what I wanted and needed to do.
But in that moment and all of a sudden, I was overwhelmed.
No Boss, No Deadlines, No Commitments
I have been freelancing for 12 years now. My favorite thing about being a freelancer is the freedom to refresh my career. I recently heard Satya Nadella on NPR talking about hitting refresh on Microsoft. He used the Internet browser as a great metaphor for what it means to refresh.
“The browser has this beautiful logic when you hit refresh on your browser. It doesn’t replace everything. It replaces only those pixels that need to be replaced. “
That is a perfect metaphor for refreshing a company, including one as small as a solopreneur. I tend to hit refresh every year around this time. Some years I have replaced quite a few pixels. This year I am more focused on rearranging the pixels.
I can do this every year because I have no boss who needs to approve my decisions. I can take my time on implementing the changes, and if a change is not working out the way I thought it should I can pull back.
But last night, all at once, I saw how my pixels should be arranged. At the same time, I knew what I had to do to rearrange those pixels and I was all of a sudden overwhelmed.
Freelancer means being “a creative”
I think we all understand that the world of work is rapidly changing. Developers continuously introduce tools to automate tasks. Professionals are expected to increase the breadth of their expertise. An emerging generation with new ideas and assumed expertise are competing for work at lower rates.
When you are on your own, defining your offerings, seeking work, pricing your offerings, and delivering expertise, the world will change and pierce through everything you have built or think you know.
This is why I refresh every year. This is why being a freelancer means being “a creative.” If you are building your brand and offerings on fulfilling an obvious and existing need, you won’t last long out here in the wild. Like an artist, a freelancer has to look for the connections that other people miss. A freelancer has to have a vision of where they would like their industry to go. A successful freelancer has to have a desire to make a mark on this world, if not a ding in the universe.
My favorite definition of a brand comes from Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” That means your personal brand you have to be interesting enough for someone to say something about you. You have to stand out. To achieve sales you have to stay top of mind. To keep clients you have to remain the expert, navigating through the rough waters of change.
That means to be a freelancer is to be “a creative.” To live the pain and sufferings of a creative. To wallow in the doubts and darkness the way that creatives do.
And to emerge with a new vision and an urgent and overwhelming need to get to work.
I have been on my own since 2005. It is a rollercoaster ride. At one point I considered getting off the ride and joining a company. That would be sacrificing the flexibility I had been enjoying. I spoke with my son about it. He asked me why I was considering a “real job.” I explained that I would like a steady paycheck. His response was “I know that money gets tight sometimes, but when you are rich, you are really rich!”
I laughed and decided what I really need to do is manage my money, time, and activities to achieve the stability I was seeking. In my article, Top 5 Ways to Survive as a Freelancer, I highlight a few practices that have worked for me.
Some people believe that the price you quote is the opening bid. They believe they are in a game and to win the game they have to get a price that is below the value. It has been suggested that to be a player in this game you have to set your opening bid much higher than your value so that the other player feels like they won the game once you have reduced your price to be equal to the value that you have to offer.
Do you like playing this game? I don’t. In my article, Should You Negotiate Your Price/Value? I suggest a few new rules to apply as a way to avoid this antiquated idea of business.
I have a few friends and peers who always seem to be busy and stressed and not nearly as productive as they would like. After a bit of probing I have uncovered they just feel busy, they really aren’t as busy as they think and that is why they are not as productive as they would like to be.
In my article, 10 Reasons You Think You are Busier than You Are, I highlight some of the main habits that keep people in the busy mindset.