How to Recover When You Drop the Ball
By Chelse Benham
“More often than any of us would like to admit, there are three small words that
express the truth of our lives: "I blew it!" In lighter moments, removed from the
reality of the failure, we may simply rename our mistakes "Experience." But the
cold hard facts of life cannot be erased — we are all imperfect, faulty, mistake-
prone people.” – Reverend, Greg Morris
Mistakes are nature's way of showing you that you're learning and you are
human. Thomas Edison once said that it takes 10,000 mistakes to find an
answer. However, generally speaking most of us aren’t trying to create the light
bulb we’re just hoping it turns on at the suitable times in our minds.
The metaphor of the light bulb, representing our ability to remember
engagements and important dates, is especially poignant. When failure to make
an important appointment occurs, it is as if the “light bulb” hasn’t turned on and
we’re left in the dark. Once realization of the overlooked appointment, errand or
responsibility has registered, the distress of missing it can be shocking and
possibly embarrassing. At times these failings can be costly, humiliating,
demoralizing and produce serious consequences.
“The longer they avoid dealing with a mistake the harder it feels to approach it,”
said Dr. Kristin Croyle, assistant professor in the Psychology and Anthropology
Department at The University of Texas-Pan American. “For people who are
struggling, it’s best to first put the incident into perspective. We all make
mistakes, but we all have areas of strength. The mistake is just one piece of the
Often the mistake can be difficult to forgive, especially from the personal
perspective. Counsel from spiritual leaders of a community may shed light on the
subject of making mistakes and how to best deal with them. The Rev. Greg
Morris writes in his article, “Failure Is Not Final” located at ministryhealth.net that
mistakes fall into the following categories:
• Panic-Promoted Mistakes – Some mistakes are the result of reacting to
a crisis. In a moment of fear or panic, a person can make a decision that
he or she might not normally make if that person had more time to think
through the options.
• Well-Intentioned Mistakes – Most of the time intentions are honorable;
however, that does not mean they are always right and error free. Even
with enough information and a sense of understanding of a situation an
error can be made.
• Passive-Negligence Mistakes – Often these mistakes occur because the
person is not as actively involved in the process as he or she should be,
resulting in mistakes caused by neglect, misinformation or lack of
awareness of the details of a situation.
• Blind-Spot Mistakes – These occur when someone is not aware of their
own weaknesses which cause a myopic approach to a problem.
Morris offers further advice on how to manage failure and mistakes. The
following observations may help you maintain the right attitude in the wake of
disappointments spurred by making a blunder:
Treat Failure As A Friend, Not A Foe. Many people are deathly afraid to fail.
They see mistakes as their worst enemy. When treated properly, however,
failure can lead to great success and be a great learning experience. Henry
Ford observed, "Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently."
Don't try to hide your mistakes, simply admit them, learn from them and grow
from them. Remember that it's OK to fail!
Respond With Openness. Leaders who live in openness survive mistakes
the best. Crises such as Watergate scandal make it clear that most of us are
more tolerant of mistakes admitted than mistakes denied.
Cultivate A Spirit Of Forgiveness. If you have cultivated a spirit of
forgiveness and grace, you will more likely be shown forgiveness and grace
when you err. Take time to develop mercy.
Communicate Authenticity. You must communicate you're a real person
and that means you're a person in process. People in process are much
easier to forgive when caught in a failure than those who try to project
Gandhi was once confronted by one of his disciples; "Gandhi, I don't
understand you. How can you say one thing last week and something quite
different this week?" Gandhi replied, "Ah, because I have learned something
since last week."
People accept weakness more easily than they do hypocrisy. Which is more
powerful: your need to preserve your image or your desire to communicate
It certainly can be established that how one addresses the mistake can affect its
outcome. Mentally preparing yourself and behaving in a mature manner
circumvents many negative effects from initially trying to hide the fault.
“How To Apologize,” written by Alison Blackman Dunham of The Advice Sisters,
advises to stay calm when mistakes happen.
“The world will not come to an end even though you’ve done something that
might hurt your standing at work or harm a personal relationship. Most likely, you
haven’t done anything that others haven’t done at some time or other,” Dunham
writes. “No one is perfect; we’re all constantly making mistakes. Actually, errors
(big and small) are learning experiences that can give you important insights
about yourself and shed light on how to improve.”
According to Dunham, the worst thing to do is;
• cover it up by offering a dismissive apology,
• joke about it,
• make excuses,
• run away, or
• blame someone or something else.
Instead, Dunham advises:
• Admit the error as soon as you’re aware of it and sincerely apologize.
• Then, ask for an opportunity to clear up the error as best you can. You
may be hesitant to admit you were wrong (some view admitting a mistake
as the ultimate loss of control), but owning-up to an error is a testament to
your character, courage and strength.
• If you’ve made a very serious mistake, showing genuine remorse is
absolutely necessary. "I’m sorry" is just not enough. Make sure the party
knows how badly you feel that you’ve caused harm or suffering and that
you stand ready to do whatever is humanly possible to make things better.
• In cases where there isn’t any way to make amends, all you can do is
show your regret, and vow never to repeat the mistake again.
• Solicit the recommended action. This is incredibly simple but ignored so
often. Ask the person you are apologizing to what he or she would like you
to do to make them whole again. Empower the person with part of the
solution. Make him or her part of the team, not an adversary. Remember,
this person is angry and he or she may have a definite idea on what you
should do as a remedy.
• Make it right—and then some. At some point, you eventually have to
deliver on the promise. You might be late or over budget, but the bottom
line is that you’d better ultimately make it right.
You may be curious to learn how to deal with your feelings of guilt, shame and
disappointment. According to Dunham, claiming ownership of the mistake can
help mitigate further feelings of embarrassment. While the reverse, refusing to
admit a mistake you truthfully know was yours, undermines your integrity and
self-respect at a time when your self-esteem and confidence have already been
Once you have apologized and done all you can to rectify the situation, move on
with your life. If you continue to feel regretful, the following may help you move
past the incident:
• Make a list of all the good things you’ve done. One mistake (no matter
how large) doesn’t wipe out a lifetime of good deeds, thoughts, and
• Make a special effort to be the best you can be.
• Do something positive to boost your confidence and self-esteem such as
volunteering to help others.
• Be extra-helpful at work or increase your productivity.
• Focus on friends and family rather than on yourself.
It's hard to apologize. Many of us are ashamed or have too much pride.
Sometimes we just don't know how to do it. At iAplogize.com there are some
helpful tips that may make it easier to say you're sorry. They are:
• No excuses, please. Even if your dog really did eat the report, it only
serves to make you look as if you aren't taking responsibility for the
mistake. Forget about who or what the reasons are; concentrate on fixing
• Don't sit on your mistakes until later. If you're quick about alerting
people about your mistake, they can help come up with solutions to the
problem before it worsens.
• Find solutions. Don't just throw your hands up in despair. You'll only
prove yourself as someone who can't meet challenges head on. Be
proactive in searching for a solution.
• Learn the lesson(s) and move on. It's true there's a lot to be learned
from our mistakes. Make a list of what you've learned and apply that
knowledge to your job or everyday life.
• Don't let a mistake depress or discourage you. See a mistake as a
step on the road to a solution. Realize that depression and
discouragement are negatives that limit the future.
The most important things to remember about making mistakes are to be gentle
with yourself and try to analyze the situation in order to benefit from it. Learn why
the mistake or failing occurred and see if there are things you can do to improve
the probabilities of it not happening again. If it’s possible, put in place some
safeguards to prevent its occurrence. An informal definition of insanity – is doing
something over and over again, while expecting different results. Don’t halt
progress, at the expense of personal growth, because of a mistake. That would
be making a mistake.
“The better a man is, the more mistakes he will make, for the more new things he
will try. I would never promote into a top-level job a man who was not making
mistakes…otherwise he is sure to be mediocre." – Peter Drucker, nationally
acclaimed management expert