To Err is Human. It is also human to look for a scape goat, make excuses and wrap denial around ourselves like a cloak of invisibility. Alina Tugend, author of Better by Mistake, summarizes the process in her book. However, I think we can all recognize the steps we take to distance ourselves from mistakes. For example…
In December, I had a holiday party for our library’s anime club. The teens had been asking me for an anime trivia game, and I kept putting it off because I thought it would suck. I figured that I would do trivia at the Holiday Party. It would be like a special treat. I was delusional. I spent days coming up with trivia questions. I sat in my living room watching anime taking notes. I consulted the listserves. I read and reread fan sites and Wikipedia. I took online anime trivia tests. I drove myself mad writing questions. I stood in front of them with my list of questions, and they answered me with blank stares. There were 14 kids. They got 1/10 questions I wrote down. My more outspoken teens gave it to me straight. “Those series are old, I don’t know what you are talking about.” I kept my head on right. I started making up new questions on the spot, but I also started making excuses. Internally I was passing blame to the teens. “They should have told me what series they wanted me to draw from” and “I’m not a thirteen year old girl, I’ve never read Chibi vampire.”
In her book, Alina Tugend relates the definition of error established by James Reason, a Professor of Psychology in England. “Reason defines error as the failure of a planned sequence of mental or physical activities to achieve its intended outcome when these failures cannot be attributed to chance.” I knew things had not gone as planned. The teens were not so overjoyed with my trivia they raised me on their shoulders and elected me King Nerd. It was clear to me, that I had failed somewhere.
That night I laid in bed reflecting on my day and my errors. I was still frustrated with how the program went. But I was frustrated with myself. I had finally begun removing the layers of bull shit that I constructed to protect my ego. My father says “every failure is your friend.” I made a lot of new friends that day. I went over my own performance with a fine toothed comb. I found a lot of them. My mistakes were not limited to the execution of trivia, my buddy and co-worker Peter made sure I knew that. But the trivia stood out in my mind.
One, I should have asked them the kind of trivia questions they’d like. I could have easily asked them what series they would have liked too. Two, I could have had them help me write questions a few months ago when they first brought it up. Three, writing trivia the same week you have library school assignments is unintelligent at best. Four, and this is the most important, it’s not about you it’s about them. Five, I’ll say it again; I could have had them help me to write the questions. No matter how badly I wanted to be right, or how hard I worked. If they were not satisfied, then I needed to look for my errors. After that, the rest were easy to see.
We all know we make mistakes. The thing that is hard to do is own them. Not just confess them, but internalize them. Make them a part of yourself and your fiber in a positive way. No matter how difficult, the steps are simple.
1) Stop making excuses to yourself and others – Admitting failure is like swimming in the ocean on a hot summer’s day. I dread the cold of the water going in, but once I’m in I love it. Really.
2) In the words of my father “First stop the bleeding, the system can be overhauled later.” – The other day, three teens come in looking for memoirs in a short period of time, so my coworker put a cart of books together in under ten minutes. It is mistake Triage. Changing tactics in the middle of something is scary, but if you realize you are failing, do it with style. Go the extra mile.
3) Reflect and take notes – I’m Catholic, I keep track of my screw ups better than my bank account. Seriously though, write it down or commit it to memory. You may make the same mistake again, but this will make it less likely. You are more likely to recover faster the second time around too.
4) It’s never too late for plan B, or an apology.– Even if you adapt quickly when things are not going well, you have to face the facts that things started going wrong. It is in your own best interest to review your mistakes and come up with an alternate plan or plans of action. Even if this takes time, it must be done. When you are done, it is important look those in the eye who you have affected and say. “I’m sorry. I screwed this up. Next time I’ll do X instead.”
Finally, you should forgive yourself. Humans are fallible. You don’t want to delude yourself into being a victim of circumstance, but you don’t want to burden yourself with guilt either. If your intent and dedication are true then people will catch on. They’ll accept your apology, or they may not even consider it something worth apologizing for. The teens in my program, my teens, they did not care. When I spoke to them next, they just wanted to know what I’m showing next.