How to Handle Making Mistakes

When others look down on us for our faults, how do we recover?

Photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

“Is she stupid?”

That’s quite a striking statement, isn’t it? It’s so blunt in its crudeness that I didn’t quite know how to respond.

Let me go back.

I work part-time at a restaurant as a hostess, it’s a fast-paced environment and it generally requires me-and the other employees-to be diligent and quick-thinking, as one small mistake can have an unintended ripple effect. That being said, everyone inevitably makes a mistake from time to time, and such was the case one Monday night with a new hostess I was training. She sat customers at the wrong table, it was only her second day and she didn’t quite know the table numbers all too well yet. In retrospect the mistake was mine, as I should’ve followed her to confirm the table was correct-but we’ll talk more about that later. After she did this I went to tell the server that she had sat the wrong table and she was new, but before I could even get all the words out the server looked at me and asked: “Is she stupid?”

I blinked. “No, she’s very nice. It’s only her second day”.

“Nice and stupid are two different things.”

At this point, I was getting a bit upset. What did she want me to say? That this perfectly nice normal girl was stupid because she made a minor mistake on her second day at a new job? It was silly, and I didn’t feel as though the conversation was going anywhere so I walked away. This interaction left me wondering: ‘How many times have I made a mistake and somebody thought I was stupid for it?’ Probably many, and I probably will make many more.

If mistakes are inevitable, how do we prepare ourselves for them? How do we deal with them when society is telling us we’re dumb or stupid for making them? The answer is actually quite simple: We learn from them.

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, some variation of “learn from your mistakes”, but how often have you actually done it? Think of it this way: how often have you made a mistake and vowed to forget it ever happened, to never think of it again. Probably a lot, right? I have. I’ve buried my mistakes deep down to avoid feeling shame or guilt- but this doesn’t help me improve as a person. Trying to avoid our faults almost guarantees they’ll never resolve, because how can we improve on something we’re avoiding? We can’t.

A mistake I made recently was seating a walk-in customer at a table that was reserved for another party. I was so ashamed when I had to tell the server, then move them to another table. I was glad it happened though, because I was able to identify a major fault of mine by using a simple technique that has allowed me to determine the root cause of my mistakes.

The mind-blowingly effective technique I use to discover my faults through mistakes is: simple deduction! Basically asking myself a string of “whys” until I reach a final conclusion. It works like this:

I sat a walk-in customer at the reserved table


Because I didn’t know there was a reservation there


Because I didn’t double-check


Because I rush to assume things.

Ah. There it is.

I’ve used this technique to deduce my mistakes to their simplest form many, many times. This is how I’ve truly learned from my mistakes. Once I learn the cause, I start to work on a solution. In this case I rushed to assume, in the future I will not make assumptions, and I will double check everything I do. This will prevent another mistake of the same variation, and save me from more mishaps.

After deducing why you’ve made the mistake, and what the root cause is, you can start working on it and face your shortcomings head on. It’s also essential to own up to the mistake once you’ve made it, passing the blame onto others will only ensure that you will never grow and learn; how can you learn when you don’t believe anything is wrong in the first place? That is why when the new hostess sat the wrong table, I had to reflect and realize that this was my shortcoming, I again rushed to assume something: that she knew the table numbers well. The mistake lies in me, and only I can fix it. It’s a painful truth, but once you realize it you will unlock an essential key to life.

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

The shame that comes with making a mistake is often found in the judgement of others-but this is something you should not worry about. Everyone’s reaction- to anything- is a reflection of themselves in one way or another. If someone reacts to your mistake negatively it is not you they’re reacting to- it’s themselves. We are mirrors, we see in others what is within ourselves. We understand each other through relationships and experiences we’ve had in the past, and base new ones off these past experiences. When you make a mistake and someone yells at you, it is usually their own shortcoming they are mad at, their own insecurity that they have not yet dealt with that you have triggered. This is not your fault, and if someone reacts poorly to something you’ve done you must not internalize it. That is their issue to deal with within themselves, you are on a path to self-improvement that does not involve other people’s actions.

How people react to your mistakes also plays an important role in whether or not they are someone you want in your life. Is someone who overreacts to every small blunder are they really someone you want to associate with? No, of course not. This is not a person who will support and love you, this is a person with unresolved issues who will only bring you down. This is another large advantage of making a mistake- you find out who is really worth your time and effort.

Making mistakes isn’t fun, but it’s inevitable. As long as we are human we will make mistakes; even the most professional and experienced people will mess up from time to time. The key to growing as a person is to learn more about yourself through these mistakes, and use them to your advantage.

You hold more power than you know, it’s time to unlock it.

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