Making Critical Mistakes and the Road to RecoveryReading 19 minutes

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To all of you fellow perfectionists, friends who have experienced imposter-syndrome, business professionals, creatives, entrepreneurs and basically any human being over the age of 5 (maybe 12 is more realistic), this one is dedicated to you.

I’ve been known to take challenges head on, sometimes to my detriment. If you are like me, this is most likely a place where you will make some mistakes. Some people may think it’s admirable to face your challenges with confidence and without any regard for fear or concern. This is partly true, but there’s definitely a fine line between confidence and arrogance. I find that when I’ve slipped into arrogance, I tend to force steps or ideas to solve my challenge. Of course, I don’t always know I’m doing it and it’s not until I’ve had time to reflect upon it that I see so clearly. And yes, there are times where mistakes are simply just mistakes. Though I have argued to myself…it’s probably rooted in some sort of pressure I’ve added to the situation or something I’ve tried to force. No matter how or why a mistake is made, recovering from them can be tough and sometimes downright exhausting. I’m talking about those critical ones that have a lasting impact on you. Critical in the eyes of you, maybe not necessarily for everyone.

I’ve realized the single most important thing for me is to allow myself grace

It’s important to point out, working through the recovery of these mistakes has taught me a great deal about myself and has contributed to my experiential learning. The recovery process is not always the same and some take longer than others, but I’ve realized the single most important thing for me is to allow myself grace throughout. This can be really, really hard at times.

So we all know I’ve never made any big mistakes. Riggggghhhhhhhtttttt… I’ve made my fair share of seemingly big mistakes, more than I care to admit. A professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas said it best, “we’re still afraid to admit when we’ve been wrong—it feels like an indictment of our self-worth.”. Oh, how this is so true! If you are a professional, odds are you’ve made mistakes that have impacted your career. I imagine some more critical than others. I’m here to tell you these mistakes, or failures, have led to greater innovation and success in my life. What I’m continuing to learn and hopefully able to offer some useful guidance on, is not only how to acknowledge and recover, but doing it gracefully. Let me start by sharing some insights I’ve learned on how to acknowledge the mistake.

Perseverance or Pressure

Like I mentioned before, there’s a line between arrogance and confidence. I believe the same is true for pressure and perseverance. In fact, I would say they really go hand-in-hand. For whatever reason, call it stubbornness, determination or whatever, it’s harder for me to see when I’m being arrogant versus confident. But when I ask myself am I adding pressure to the situation it’s a lot easier to say “yes”, “no” or “maybe”. If “no”, then I let grit kick in and continue with humbled confidence. If “yes” or “maybe”, well then I’m probably overlooking something or too naive and my arrogance is blocking me from seeing it. Generally speaking, a “maybe” has more often been a thinly-veiled “yes” (or whatever response would be seemingly negative). Simply put, if I’m questioning it, then odds are I’m doing it.

The more pressure I add, the more short-sided I become…

When I add pressure to things I make mistakes A LOT. I even try to push it onto others at times, which I’m not proud of. And as ironic as it may be, this is typically the first mistake that leads to a more critical mistake. When I add pressure to situations my fuse is much shorter and my emotions can very easily take over. Consider a pressure cooker. It’s a sealed chamber that traps the steam generated, heating the contents. As the steam increases, pressure builds, eventually driving the boiling point of water past 212 degrees. In the case of mistakes it’s the same. I am the pressure cooker in this analogy, or at least my mind is. The more pressure I add, the more short-sided I become and the more mistakes I make and eventually I can push myself past the point of recovery, at least in the immediate sense. I call this the “boiling point”. And usually when I’ve passed the boiling point, those are what I consider to be the “critical mistakes”. The ones I pushed so far I’m now trying to justify my actions. The ones I try to resolve with quick fixes that prolong the inevitable. The ones I’ve forced too far past the point of immediate resolve.

Trust a Friend

I can certainly be prideful at times. I try to keep this in check, but I am human. I’m naturally a pretty optimistic fella. I think sometimes when this optimism mashes up with my confidence I can become a bit overconfident and prideful. But doggonit if I hover the line just before crossing over I can really show you some perseverance! This is true, however this statement alone, some would say is already pretty prideful, haha. Learning to be humble is key and man I have been humbled over the years, thus I call it “humbled confidence”.

I pride myself on being highly diligent and detailed when it comes to handling our personal finances. I’m by no means wealthy and honestly I feel a bit behind on long term planning, but when it comes to budgeting and choosing when and where to spend money I feel like I put in the work necessary to feel good about our decisions. Nevertheless, pride can also get in the way of admitting to yourself you’ve made a mistake or you’re about to. If you can relate, one thing that I’ve found to be very useful is to have vulnerable conversations and ask questions of a trusted friend. I try to make this a regular occurrence or even routine, so I can’t hide from myself. There’s a couple of ways you can do this. Either by talking about some decisions you’ve made recently that caused question or pause in your mind or by having some go-to gut-check questions. I might ask questions like these:

  • Have I done anything strange lately that stood out to you?
  • Have you noticed any recent behaviors that have felt “bossy”, forced or pushy?
  • Have I offended you recently?

Otherwise, I’m typically forthcoming with things on my mind and when I’ve unpacked them with a trusted friend they’re typically able to act as a mirror for me. I walk away feeling affirmed in my decision or see a potential issue, gap or mistake in my decision. This has been very key for me, because critical thinking is hard to do by yourself at times, especially when pride is involved.

Reframe Your Mindset

No matter how diligent I am at times or how hard I try to strive for perfection I still fall down. I still make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Accept that it’s part of being human. You never know, it could lead to your next big success or a new way of solving a problem or approaching a challenge.

To learn to succeed, you must learn to fail.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

– Michael Jordan

Otherwise, I tend to build a case around why I should feel bad or feel like I’ve let someone down. The more I do this, the harder I am on myself. The harder I am on myself, the more complicated things get and generally the bigger the mistake becomes. If I don’t have tricks or ways to snap myself out of it, then I continue building the case and eventually I feel stuck. So, I made an agreement with myself that when I finally realize and/or accept I’ve made a critical mistake, I begin the process of seeking out the positive. For me this helps with a couple crucial things. First, it allows me to start the recovery process right then and second it keeps me from slipping into the victim mindset. Yes, there are times I can’t seem to shake the feeling like nothing is working out. Nothing is going my way. Why does this keep happening to me? To top it off, there’s this thing psychologists call “negativity bias”. To quote an article:

“It’s [negativity bias] when these errors tend to take center stage in our consciousness. Our minds are highly attuned to focus on what we’ve done wrong, not what we’ve done right. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense; for our hunting-and-gathering ancestors, messing up was often a matter of life or death. Though modern-day mistakes don’t mean we’re going to end up being mauled by a saber-toothed tiger, we may still respond with the same urge to flee. But that response leaves us ill equipped to fix the kinds of errors we make these days, which usually require logical, methodical problem solving.”

If I’m able to keep myself from falling into the victim mindset or “negativity bias”, while seeking out the positive, it allows me to start asking questions like, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” or “What change or impact will this have on future situations like this?”.

Failure Stories

As I mentioned early, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, not only professionally, but personally as well. Some of them have had greater repercussions than others, some have led to success stories in my life, but all of them have taught me something.

He was like, look you messed up and it was a big mistake

In my professional life, I once made a critical spelling mistake on a printed piece to serve as a “thank you” that was being distributed to all of the employees of where I worked at the time. There were easily over 500 employees. It was a pretty embarrassing spelling mistake and I was the final check before it went to print. To top it off, nobody else saw it before it was distributed to the staff even after it had been produced and delivered. I thought for sure I was going to get fired. I didn’t, but I definitely got a stern talking to from my boss. I learned two things from that experience right then, always triple check words OR have another pair of eyes read over everything. And also, I learned humility. My boss at the time was really amazing at being able to communicate his concerns in a way that didn’t make me feel like a complete failure. He was like, look you messed up and it was a big mistake, but these things can happen, so let’s look at ways to improve going forward. Through the process, I was learning to be humble. Later in my career, I realized this mistake was a defining turning point for me. I started to become more aware of myself and how naturally I’m not the most detailed person. It burned in my mind that when you make a mistake, you acknowledge it, reflect on it and learn from it. And do it in a positive way. Ultimately continue forward.

Another example, from my personal life, I remember in my first year of being self-employed. I did not perform the due-diligence I needed to when it came to preparing for my taxes. I remember being in the tax meeting and when my tax accountant shared the total number I would owe, my face literally turned white and my stomach dropped. I thought, “he didn’t say that right, right?!? He accidentally added a zero to the end of that number…right!?”. Fortunately for me, I had bought a house that tax year and we were able to take advantage of the “first time home buyer’s credit”. You know the good one that you didn’t have to repay. It all but wiped out what we were going to owe that year. Ever since then, I vowed to never be in a situation like that again. When it came to our personal (and business) finances, I was on a mission to track at an absurd level of detail. Over the years I have tapered back some, but the core attention to detail and new patterns I had developed did create success for my family and for CreativeFuse. Flash forward to today and I’m considered by some of my peers to be the most detailed on our team. I’m definitely proof that even though your natural tendencies may be one way, with practice and new habits formed over time you can become more aware of yourself and actually thrive on the other side.

Let’s talk about our company CreativeFuse for a moment. Business owners I’m sure can relate with this, but I tried starting five or six other companies / entrepreneurial ideas before CreativeFuse came into the picture. In fact, of those previous attempts a few of them were with my current co-founder and best friend, Casey Telger. We failed multiple times before we were successful. And even when CreativeFuse first started we still had our challenges and we still made mistakes. However, roughly 14 years later, here we are. No matter what happens going forward, I definitely consider CreativeFuse a beautiful success. Something else you must know about me, is that I was seriously concerned earlier in my career that I was going to be unable to work in the same place or doing the same thing for more than a couple of years at a time. CreativeFuse became something of an enigma to me at about year three. I started realizing the potential for change, balance of challenge, variance and growth not only in the company and my role, but also in my day-to-day behaviors. Eventually, I found building relationships with creatives and clients became a driving motivation. And to this day, it provides that same great avenue for me and I haven’t looked back (well until now, haha).

The Slippery Slope

One more personal example. One that was/is more recent. A little over a year ago, my family and I moved six states away from basically where I lived within a 20 mile radius my entire life. We have two young daughters (now 10 and 7) and we were moving away from all of our friends and family. The idea itself was a huge leap for us and even a bigger journey to ultimately begin taking steps towards moving. I won’t go into all of the details of the impact this move has had on my family, my friends and myself. Some good, some not and some is still being sorted out. This may have to be another journal entry or a candid conversation over a cold one. If you were to have asked me five years ago, would I move to another state, I would have said “heck no”. If you were to ask me five years from now will I still be here? I would say “I have no idea”. What I do know is that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. And with each day that goes by, I’ve started to discover more and more why that is. Ok, so the MISTAKE amidst all of this. Well. You see. I’m what you call a “real go-getter”. Someone who “gets after it” when it comes to tackling a home renovation or crawling all over a project at work or knocking off a task list. I have a tendency to dive deep and fast. If I’m not careful I can be destructive, kind of like a huge boulder rolling down a hill, taking out plants, small trees and creating ruts along the way. Hopefully not hurting animals. You get the idea. The deep focus “can” be used for good and I have, but in this case it was to my detriment. If we were going to move across states, we wanted not only to buy the right house for us, but also do the things that were needed to make it our own. I’m not sure if I ever said this out loud to my wife, but in my mind, I was like it all needs to be done in the first year. At least the major ones. Not only that, but somewhere along the way, I had created this idea in my head that without completing these efforts my family wasn’t going to be comfortable. This was the first mistake that led to more and ultimately one that was much bigger.

I don’t know about you, but when you move your family away from everything they’ve known to a new place without knowing anyone or anything around you, it is a lot. This idea that my family wasn’t going to be comfortable in this strange new place until I was able to create the right environment had embedded itself so deeply into my psyche. So much so, that it was causing me to take on way more than I could handle and bulldoze my way around our property, literally. I added pressure. Also, it’s important to note, that I tried not taking it on all by myself and I figured I’d pay the professionals. We had our budget all in order and we had more than luck on our side with the sale of our house and lining up a loan officer. I had done our due-diligence in setting aside cash for projects, we secured a great interest rate and we negotiated well on the purchase of our new house. I even put in some calls to contractors to schedule things in advance after finalizing the sale of the new home in the same weekend. I was off to a wonderful start. Then the unforeseen, the hard-to-plan-for, unknown variables started surfacing.

I took on a small “grading project”. Well, I had a contractor do it, but with all of the logistics and ultimately having to fix the issues of what this person had done was more than a few projects in and of itself. The project was to create a couple of usable flat spaces for the girls to run around a bit and have a place for a playset and some other activities. Ultimately, it was the one project that became one giant series of mistakes. What’s even worse, is I had indicators along the way that I ignored, but because I saw it as a “challenge” I was dead-set on getting it done. Ignoring those indicators added up to the list of mistakes. I added pressure. This same contractor had completed another project for us and it was done well, so I had no reason to believe they couldn’t lead our grading project. Especially since this contractor also mentioned they had over 10 years of grading experience prior to becoming a general contractor. What I quickly realized is he did not have any experience determining how much fill dirt was needed, so the cost of our project kept increasing. Like 3 or 4 times. I also started noticing this contractor was not really attentive to details like what to watch out for (or look for) before you start rolling around with a machine. Uh-huh… things like drainage pipes and septic lines. I also didn’t account for rain, lots and lots of rain during the project and after. Rain during the project postponed it quite a bit. Rain ruined it after because the contractor didn’t secure the new grading well enough. I was watching dollar bills roll, slide and fall down the hill. Entire sections dropping out completely. I frantically rushed to use any sort of sense I had, spent gobs of time and money trying to hold it in place myself to ultimately bring in another contractor who was actually qualified to fix it. I added pressure. When I saw what they did, I began to see clearly what a mess I had created. This new contractor came recommended by a friend I met here locally. Oh there are so many other things that happened along the way I could go on and on, but the biggest takeaways…

Don’t rely on other people to ask the questions that may need to be asked.

When you move to a new state, don’t trust every contractor you meet. Especially where contract work like this was plentiful and when good general contractors are hard to come by in the state you move to. Yeah, I should have known better. On the bright side, we did end up developing solid relationships with contractors that we still have today.

Don’t rely on other people to ask the questions that may need to be asked. As I mentioned, I’m not naturally detailed, but over the years I’ve trained myself to leave no stone unturned. I had questions, ones I should have said aloud to the contractor. But I let my optimism, my unrealistic commitment to making my family “feel” comfortable, my pride and sheer stubbornness veer me from my process. I added pressure.

When you are given time (like due to rain delays outside of your control), this is most certainly the time to reflect before you start “doing” anything else. Honestly, looking back, I believe THIS is where I made my biggest mistake in this journey. I was seeing it as a negative that we were having rain delays, when really I was being thrown a “life raft”. I ignored the indicators I had and had I given myself a chance to breathe and reflect, I would have been able to circumvent “an issue” much sooner (and easier) and saved myself quite a bit of money.

In the end, I learned that acknowledging mistakes as early in the process is always best. I fought and fought against my better judgement. As a result, I did add pressure all along the way, I did fall victim to the “victim mindset” and I made many more mistakes trying to force it because I was hellbent on completing the challenge. I felt I had good cause to stay the course and keep grinding, but it’s easy to see how it all went sideways now. It took me forever to reframe what was going on in my head, and it wasn’t until I finally was reminded to slow down and allow myself grace that things began to change and create real meaningful resolve. That said, I’m still wrestling with one issue today as a result, but my mindset has completely transformed and I’m humbly confident everything will come together in the end.

Graceful Recovery

So the first step is to acknowledge the mistake. Second, start the recovery process as quickly as possible. As part of acknowledging we talked about ways to do this like asking yourself questions about whether or not you are adding pressure. Also, things like getting vulnerable with a trusted friend and looking at ways to reframe your mindset before you slip deep into the negativity bias or victim mentality. With regards to the recovery process and how to come back from mistakes, there’s tons and tons of ideas out there. I’ve shared some in my examples above, however I will sum these up with a few “dos and don’ts”. These have worked and continue to for me.

no – Don’t hold your breath. I actually do this more than I think. Like physically.

yes – Do give yourself a chance to calm down and take a deep breath. Then breathe naturally and sometimes focus on it moving in and out for a moment. You’d be surprised at the space this gives in allowing your better judgement to catch up with your mind. We can all be reminded of this simple action.

no – Don’t force steps. Doing this typically results in making things worse, breaking things or hurting people.

yes – Do take time to reflect. It’s better to stand firm on this over any other steps you may try to force.

no – Don’t beat yourself up for making the mistake(s). Stop holding yourself to unrealistic standards.

yes – Do allow yourself grace and practice self-compassion. Be patient and understanding with yourself as you would with others. You are a human too, not a perfectly crafted robot. We can all use a little reminder of what Ellen once responded with to a question, “Does that mean I’m perfect? No. I’m not. I’m a multi-layered person, and I try to be the best person I can be and I try to learn from my mistakes.”.

no – Don’t let shame or pride hold you back from making amends with people who were impacted by the mistake(s), including yourself.

yes – Do make time for an apology and sometimes how you communicate it, the simpler the better. And yes you can apologize to yourself. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

no – Don’t be so quick (or candid) to apologize that you skip steps that may be needed as part of the healing or recovery process for all parties involved. How else are you to learn from the mistake if you don’t put in any actionable effort beyond speaking words.

yes – Do make a recovery plan when it’s called for and do it swiftly. Being honest with yourself and apologizing are important steps, but the difference between saying these things and actually doing them is taking the time to prepare a recovery plan. This might mean writing down your thoughts on paper or it could be demonstrating proactive steps. In the professional world, people will typically understand you are human and make mistakes, but what they really appreciate is seeing steps already mapped out to resolve or rectify the mistake. Keep showing up! Amy Leneker said it best, “After a disastrous mistake, it can be easy to hide out (hello shame and blame!), but that won’t help. Continue to show up and take action. People need to see your behavior, not just hear your words. It reminds me of Stephen Covey’s quote, ‘You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into.’”.

Well, I sure hope you found some nuggets in here. If nothing else, I’ve cherished the opportunity to journal all of this for myself. Doing so continues to teach me new ways to look at things and finesse my steps. Whatever tools you may use, I hope that at the end of the day, when mistakes are made, you are giving yourself the same amount of patience and grace as you would extend to others. The ironic thing is the less patient and understanding you are with yourself the less you are with others. Let that sit in for a second. Cheers!


I would love to hear from your experience.