Wright Foundation | March 31, 2022

F**ck Up at Work? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Hide Mistakes at Work

Have you made mistakes at work? We’ve all made mistakes, and often the first impulse is to try to hide them under the rug. Here’s why you should admit to mistakes and make amends.

We've all made mistakes at work, and often try to hide them under the rug. Here's why you should admit to mistakes and make amends.

Ah, the hot potato of mistakes! I’ve had more freedom to make mistakes than most people I know – so I have a lot of experience f**cking things up.

One of the blessings I’ve had in my life is the freedom to be the age I am (and at 73, I still feel a little immature). To mess up and live to see another day. To be around long enough to know that I’ve learned MORE from messing up than I ever would have from not messing up.

How can we live a successful life unless we embrace failure? How can we learn without being allowed to make mistakes along the way?

We live in a blame culture. We’re quick to point the finger at someone or something as “the problem,” falsely thinking that if we fix that one thing, everything else will fall into place and be just fine.

But pointing a finger IS the primary mistake we make instead of understanding that we are in a complex system. And hopefully, one we can learn from sooner rather than later.

Mistakes Can Break Us OR Make Us

Whatever the mistake is, we ALL have a part of it. We each have some degree of responsibility.

We had a pile-up of trucks on a hill on our campus last night. With a quarter-inch of ice on everything, the Amazon truck got almost to the top then slid back down into a tree. The pizza delivery guy came over the hill to go down while the Amazon guy was walking up the hill to keep anyone else from coming down. Unfortunately, the pizza guy was going too fast and slid down into the tree next to the Amazon truck. And the tow truck only had 50 feet of cable, and he needed 100 feet to pull them up the hill.

I’m grateful to the Amazon truck guy for bringing our stuff, but he wasn’t going fast enough to get up the hill, and he didn’t understand he could have gone over to the side to get his tires onto the grass for more traction. Instead, he stayed in the center of the road and slid down. So, was this his fault?

The pizza guy was going too fast, and he didn’t follow the sign at the top of the hill that said, “Keep Right.” It says “Keep Right” to guide you into a turnout so you can look down the hill to see if anyone’s coming BEFORE heading down yourself. So, was it the pizza guy’s fault?

Well, my sign did NOT say, “Keep Right so you’ll be guided into a turnout so you can look down the hill to see if anyone’s coming BEFORE heading down yourself.” My sign just said, “Keep Right.” So my sign wasn’t good enough. And I had an ice-covered hill! Was it my fault?

Yes, yes, and yes. We were all part of the mistake.

I then paid $400 to have the entire driveway salted. Why wasn’t it salted before last evening? Our salt machine wasn’t working, and our caretaker was having surgery. The truth is, I could make any number of excuses, but if we take a good hard look at it, we can see there’s any number of problem points that could have kept what happened last night from happening.

Mistakes are simply a symptom of how a system needs to function better. That’s it.

Instead of pointing a finger, what if we looked instead at what each of us could have done better?

Shifting from a Blame Culture to a Problem-Solving Culture

One of the greatest tools we have RIGHT NOW to help us shift from a blame mindset to a problem-solving mindset is social and emotional intelligence. Social and emotional intelligence invites conversation rather than encouraging blame. It allows us to be with what is, instead of what we think should be or could be or once was or may never be.

We all have acceptable aspects of ourselves and unacceptable aspects for ourselves—for me, fear and hurt are those zones.

As the one who carried the anger in our family, I was very comfortable being mad. I picked a lot of fights (some might say I do still!) But what I wasn’t comfortable with and failed to look at growing up was my fear, hurt, and sadness.

Ideally, we’re all like giant love sponges that get filled up with positive affirmations. Then, when we’re full, we spill over onto others, offering affirmations to them and, when needed, problem-solving.

But we all have dry parts of our sponge where the positive affirmation never gets into. Those dry parts are what Freud refers to as our false selves.

Our false selves are based on certain beliefs we take on to fit into our world better. For example, if we’re pretty, we’ll be more likable. If we have a lot of money, we’ll be successful. If I work hard/achieve more, we’ll have more value.

The blame culture needs our false selves to thrive.

At the Wright Foundation, we practice what we call the assignment way of living to help put cracks into our false selves. Each day our students embrace a new assignment to challenge their limiting beliefs and mistaken perceptions—for example, thinking we won’t be valuable/accepted/loved if we make a mistake.

The more we crack that façade, the more our sponge can get filled with love, and the more we can contribute to a world that works for everyone.

See the Flaws, SAY the Flaws, Be the Flaws

This post has gotten me more likes than most. Why? I imagine those pink socks give us all permission to take pleasure in who we are – the parts of ourselves we usually hide under our pant cuffs.

I also imagine those pink socks could easily have been a mistake—perhaps I didn’t pack enough dark ones? Maybe it was dark when I got dressed and grabbed the wrong ones? Who knows? But I owned them in that photograph. I let them lead me into pleasure instead of shame. They became my success instead of my mistake.

That’s why we should embrace our mistakes instead of hiding them or hiding from them. When we make excuses, we don’t learn and grow. AND we miss out on potential joy and connection.

Don’t let your false self run the show. Let the anxiety of making mistakes at work go. Put on a pair of pink socks and start looking for the solution instead of the culprit. Let your mistakes make you, not break you.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.