The Art of Making Mistakes

by Claire Schmieder, Senior Editor, INALJ NYC, INALJ New York State, and INALJ Texas

The Art of Making Mistakes

Claire.Schmieder.SeniorEditorConfession: I make mistakes all the time – at work, at home, with friends.

Most of the time, these mistakes are minor with smaller, manageable consequences. Things like not giving myself quite enough time to meet a deadline at work; not making sure my kids have all of their school supplies ready for the first day of school; being more than 15 minutes late to meet up with a friend. Occasionally, I make not so minor mistakes that are accompanied by more serious consequences.

There is no way for anyone to avoid making mistakes. We’re human and we’re fallible. The art of making mistakes doesn’t mean complete avoidance of them, however. Rather, it’s in understanding how to react to them, how to acknowledge them, how to learn from them, and how to move forward from them.


Don’t panic! Your first internal reaction might be that panicky, “what-the-hell-did-I-do?” feeling in the pit of your stomach. Don’t let that feeling guide your external reaction. Take five minutes to calm down and think about what happened before you talk to anyone about what happened.

When you do react to your error, do not let your internal negativity or disappointment manifest outwardly in any way. Allowing negative emotions to dictate your reaction will only end up reflecting poorly on your ability to be professional.

Acknowledging & Learning

It can be really, really hard to admit when you’ve made a mistake. There are lots of reasons for this: fear of losing authority by being wrong, not wanting to be chastised, internal fear of failure are just a few of them.

Acknowledging a mistake doesn’t mean endless apologies and groveling. In fact, those are the last things you should do. When you admit your error, make sure you’ve taken time to reflect on what happened, how you fell short, and what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Maybe you double-booked a program time. Or you forgot to book a program at all. Or you didn’t meet a deadline. Consider why it happened. Can you address the oversight by adding calendar alerts? Can you color code events? Can you establish an end-of-week session to review logistic details for the upcoming week? Further, your solutions should always address the short- and long-term issues at play. A quick, one-time fix isn’t going to solve a larger, more complicated problem. In fact, it could actually make things worse in the long run.

When you address your mistake with your supervisor, acknowledge, apologize, and explain how you’ll address the issue in the future. They may have additional feedback or suggestions for you. Listen to them – they’re a supervisor because they’ve got experience. Other employees have likely made the same mistake that you have.

Moving Forward

After the proverbial dust has settled, don’t let your mistake haunt you forever. How to do this?

Avoid acting like nothing happened. Rely on your friends and coworkers for support. Getting their perspective on your mistake will be helpful and productive. And, jump right back into your work routine with your new plans in place. Don’t let one mistake make you permanently afraid of trying new ideas, taking calculated risks, or being creative at work.

For further reading about this topic, check out these blog posts from Ask A Manager:
How big of a deal are mistakes when you’re new to a job?
My manager wants me to take more responsibility for my mistakes
What to do when you make a mistake at work

You can also try these books on the same topics:
Mistakes I made at work : 25 influential women reflect on what they got out of getting it wrong
Whoever makes the most mistakes wins : the paradox of innovation

And, please share your stories of mistakes you’ve made at work in the comments below. We can all learn from, and support, one another.