Very recently I made a bit of a mistake and by bit I mean that I made a speaking gaffe in front of a crowd of 100 plus people while representing an organization at arguably their biggest event to date. Luckily it hasn’t appeared to do any real damage, but still is something I need to learn from. This is an event that most young and even experienced professionals have to deal with at some point. So here is what I have picked up from my all too regular experience in this area.
I find that the first step in overcoming a mistake is to own it. My first reaction and the wrong one, was to down play it. While this is natural, it does you no good and makes you appear more unprofessional then the original event. So don’t make excuse or point fingers compounding the mistake. Even if others contributed to the mistake you can’t control their behaviors, you can only affect your own. Most professionals will be willing to give you a second chance, but not if you can’t admit it.
My second reaction, being overly critical of myself was just as useless. Luckily, I have learned to go through this phase quickly learning to funnel that energy into something useful, but in years past I often got stuck. Guilt can be a good wake up call, but it also can prevent you from making amends and lead to further mistakes due to a lack of focus. A couple realizations have helped me to move on from this reaction. First, mistakes happen and very few are so bad you can’t recover. I still don’t like mistakes but I have come to accept them. Also, like the mistake itself, you have control over what happens next. Finally remind yourself of what you have done well. My speaking error, while not insignificant, doesn’t define me. I did a lot of impressive work before and during that event and can continue to do so in the future.