I discovered I made a mistake with a client recently.
It was a decent sized mistake with implications and significant consequences.
This photo depicts the feeling I had. Shock, disbelief. A sense of "I can't believe what I'm seeing.
A print job that needed to be delivered for an important conference and was hung up at the printer. Not their fault. My fault. 100% my fault. A simple mistake. No chance it could get there in time.
I discovered it after hours when there was nothing I could do to fix it. Worse, I had no idea how or if it could be fixed.
And nothing but an evening ahead to think about it.
Nothing to do until the business world wakes up the next morning.
It wasn't a mistake of character. I didn't do something intentionally. I missed a step in a process I've done a thousand times. But somehow that didn't matter.
When I discovered what I had done (or not done) I was absolutely stopped short.
Ever had that moment? All of the energy drains out of your body. It is replaced by all the fears of what this means. About who you are. About what this means for the future. About whether you are smart enough. About whether this proves conclusively that you should probably go back to work at McDonald's where you were more qualified.
Choices to be made about what happens in the space between your ears.
The irony is that I had listened, a mere 8 hours earlier, to a podcast about paying attention to the thoughts that we allow. And I found myself thinking about my friend Bonnie who was known for saying "what you think about grows big in you."
So what does it look like to tell yourself the truth when things go wrong?
Because things will go wrong. It's inevitable. Sometimes it will be a "mistake" with no moral implication.
Sometimes it will be a failure of character. Something you shouldn't have done. Something you shouldn't have said. I have many of those stories and they take time to journey through.
What does it sound like to rehearse the truth about the situation? About who you are? About the actual consequences of whatever went wrong?
What does it look like to take control of your thoughts and not live in the "what if" place?
I had that opportunity. It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last.
To speak truth to myself that when it comes down to it, I probably won't die.
To speak the truth that I might lose some respect in the eyes of the client but I won't die. I will own the mistake and they will either be gracious or not. But I won't die.
To speak the truth that I am not reduced to total inadequacy in everything I have ever done or will do because of this mistake. The mistake doesn't define me. It is just a mistake.
And somehow, the grace I would readily extend to someone else who is admitting they failed in a big way, I need to learn to extend to myself.
So hard. And yet how else can we survive the reality of living? Mistakes happen. It is just a part of being human.
We will fail. In what we do. In what we say. In how we treat our clients or our family or our friends.
It is inevitable. But it doesn't have to be defining.
We have to learn to tell ourselves the larger truth. The truth beyond the circumstance. The truth that someone who loves us would tell us. The truth about who we are, not the mistake we made.
I was fortunate. I was able to find a way to rectify the mistake. It was expensive for our company, but not for the client. It all worked out. But wow. It was an exercise in choosing.
And I fully recognize I might not be so fortunate next time. Some mistakes can't be solved by throwing money at them. When we can't resolve things the challenge of telling ourselves the truth is even more important.
Bottom line, every one of you has a story about failure. Probably more than one.
Are you telling yourself the truth? Do you know that your mistakes don't define you?
Do you have grace for yourself?