It happens to all of us. We are moving too fast and we send an email the wrong person or a message that was supposed to be private is sent to a group chat. In my case, when I am moving too fast I quickly scan instead of carefully review what I am working on which produces terrible typos or missing important information in a document.
Too often my 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, no one will really notice or I will be able to work through it. 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 in 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, but 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. However, 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.
We are human and everyone makes mistakes. It is how you respond to your mistakes that will make or break you.
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 at 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 has 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.
Every now and then I take a much-needed vacation where work is involved. I call in a working vacation. What is a working vacation? Learn more here.
I cringe every time someone says it; “I am very busy.”
It is said with the tone the suggest being busy equates with being important. Or being busy is equivalent to getting things done, having a purpose in life.
It is as though the world has taught us that if you are not busy, you are a slacker, a loser, moving around aimlessly.
What is wrong with you? Get busy. Do something with your life.
Stop. Please just stop.
I am raising two boys, still driving my oldest to destinations that require highway driving and transporting my youngest to his various rehearsals and gigs. I am helping with homework, keeping the house clean, walking the dog, grocery shopping, running an online marketing agency, selling, managing a team, invoicing, developing strategies, pitching, writing, reading, being a wife, going to my husband’s gigs, nurturing my friendships, networking, and keeping up with all the changes that happen on social media while maintaining my own social presence. I am also on the board of two nonprofits and I keep up with paying our monthly bills.
Oh – I also play games on Facebook. I grew up playing games with my family, and now that we live in different states, Facebook allows us to continue to play games with each other.
I am not busy.
I have a life to maintain, but rarely will you hear me say the words “I am busy.” I do not need to apply that label to prove that I am accomplished or accomplishing.
I have priorities. Sometimes I will say I am not available at a set time, but that is not the same as I am too busy. That means let’s look at the schedule and see where something falls on the list of priorities and when I can get to it.
You are never too busy to do something or meet someone, it is just down on the list of priorities.
Also, you do not need to have every moment scheduled. Deadlines are important for most things, but when you actually do the activity should be when you are inspired to – obviously before the deadline. It is also vital to learn how you work and how long something will take you.
When I have to write a social media strategy for a client I suggest it will take 2 weeks. The first 10 days is me thinking about it, jotting down notes, doing research, and thinking some more while I do other activities. Then the last 2 days I sit down and write the report. It is thorough and thought out, but it did not fill every moment of my two weeks. Yet having the time to let information present itself and ideas to connect provides inspiring new concepts for effective strategies.
The more relaxed a person is the more creative they can be. Ideas can flow. But you cannot be relaxed if you are always busy.
Also, ideas and inspiration come from the oddest places. Today I sat down at Starbucks. My intent was to work on a campaign strategy that needs to be presented in 2 days. However, the gentleman next to me decided he wanted to chat. Was I too busy to chat? No. Who knows what wisdom this man would offer me. I will never see him again. So I felt I needed to push my work aside and listen to his stories. Within 30 minutes he was on his way and I was inspired to write this post. I still have plenty of the weekend to work on the strategy which will be written quickly once I finish collecting all the ideas that are around me.
If I was too busy to collect new ideas, all my ideas would be recycled and the value I offer would be diminished.
Let’s change how we view the idea of being busy.
If you are too busy you might be unorganized. If you are too busy you might be uninspired. If you are too busy you might be trying to fill in a void that needs to be addressed. If you are too busy you might have anxiety.
If you are too busy, you might be missing out on all that life has to offer.
This past Thursday I was invited to be on a panel with Craig Hyde, President and Co-Founder of Rigor to discuss our journey and stumbles as entrepreneurs. The panel was the first of the Small Talks being sponsored by Turnstone. It was a great conversation, and although Craig and I are different in many ways, it seemed we both had very similar advice to offer.
Our host, Jon Eggleton provided us with a list of questions to be ready to answer. Going through this preparation was a great way for me to reflect on my journey as an entrepreneur.
Below are the questions and my answers.
What Motivated You to Become An Entrepreneur?
Many times in my life I recognized trends and opportunities and came up with what I thought were good business ideas. I would always try to convince someone else to run with the idea and was always let down. When I saw what was going in social media, back in 2005 and the opportunity to help businesses take advantage of the opportunities that were going to open up, once again I tried to convince the company I was working for to run with my ideas, and once again I was let down. I basically snapped and decided I could not let this one pass me by. I left a steady paycheck and made the decision to own my ideas.
The lesson I learned is you have to take ownership of your ideas. They came to you for a reason.
What Was Your Biggest Fear Before Before Starting Your Business?
That I had totally lost my mind. Seriously my family depends on me bringing home a paycheck, and now my income depended on me selling an idea that I had not yet completely developed and that was completely foreign to the business world. But within a couple of weeks, some very senior people in the city were inviting me to lunch and providing me with their very valuable consultation. In a couple of months, I had clients who were helping me to develop my offerings and processes. Within 6 months I had a team of people supporting me on projects and within 16 months I was the co-founder of a pretty impressive conference.
The lesson I learned is crazy people attract other crazy people, and together we can make some crazy things happen.
If You Could Go Back and Do One Thing Differently, What Would it Be?
Get a good accountant from the start. When you are launching a new business idea your time is consumed with figuring out your offerings, marketing, selling, managing the process, bringing together a team of people. Accounting is the last thing you have time to think about and before you know it you have a mess to deal with.
The lesson I learned is that other people are readily available to help with those pesky business operation stuff and well worth the money (which does not have to be much).
What Would You Describe As Your Biggest “Failure” Along The Way of Becoming an Entrepreneur?
Taking on projects that were not the right fit because I needed the money. Sometimes the client’s expectations were not in alignment with what could be delivered and sometimes it was not a personality fit, but I tried to make it happen anyway. Every time I tried to be a trooper and earn that paycheck I found myself hating what I did and having the soul sucked out of me. Fortunately, there was usually another client in my life reminding me why I love what I do.
The lesson I learned is to turn down work that is going to suck the soul out of you. If you need money, get on the phone and find the next right client.
Was There Ever a Moment In Which You Felt You “Made It” or Are you Still Driven By Fear of Failure?
What is “it?” I have not made so much money that I can stop working. I still have to work to pay my bills each month. But I do make enough income and I am doing what I love to do and I have the ability to run with other business ideas.
There was a time I was running toward some goal of a big agency and big clients and lots of money, but then I realized that I did not want to do the things I was required to do to get there. So I had to redefine what success meant to me.
The lesson learned is to define what success means to you, not some external definition of success.
The focus of this Small Talk was on failure and that got me to thinking about how I define failure. Is it hitting an obstacle? Is it making a mistake? Is it quitting?
No, no, and no.
If I was trying to get from point A to point B and there was a roadblock I had to go around, I did not fail. If I made a wrong turn and had to find a way to correct my path, I did not fail. If on my way to point B I decided I don’t really want to go to point B after all and I gave up on the journey, I did not fail.
I guess failure, to me, is if you want to get to point B but give up because it’s too hard and full of frustrating experiences, but you still want to get there, you just give up. That is failure.
One of the questions was Do you Think Failure is Required to Be a Successful Entrepreneur. If I consider how I just defined failure, the answer would have to be no.
I am browsing around Pinterest and came across the above image. The text suggests to me that we should not let our “monkey mind” feed us our self-doubts and we should not be too harsh on ourselves. But the image is a reminder that actually sometimes we need to kick our own asses. We need to tell ourselves we can be better, do better, act better. We need to tell ourselves that we are letting ourselves down and we need to pick up the pace. We need to say “stop feeling sorry for yourself” and “If you want it go get it.” When we don’t have that great friend or nemesis around to motivate us into action with the words we don’t want to hear but need to hear, then we need to be able to tell those words to ourselves.
Being good to yourself does not always mean being kind to yourself.