How to Overcome a Mistake at Work

Jake Wilder
6 min readNov 10, 2020

Don’t Let a Mistake Define You

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new,” said Albert Einstein, echoing Theodore Roosevelt’s advice that, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” And yet while we all recognize the truth in these words, it doesn’t make those mistakes any less painful when they happen.

Maybe you were rushing and didn’t give that report a final review. Maybe you accidentally hit reply all on a sensitive topic. Or maybe you fell for an age-old honeypot scheme and then pretended you were simply tucking in your shirt.

Whatever happened, you messed up. And now you have to deal with the consequences. At this point, everyone has two options: deny any wrongdoing and set yourself up to repeat it or acknowledge the mistake and move forward.

The interesting part is that whenever you make a mistake, everyone already knows it. They’re just waiting to see whether you’ll take responsibility for it. They’re waiting to see if you’ll use this as an opportunity to grow or an excuse to deflect responsibility. Choose the former and people are often happy to give you another chance. Choose the latter and you’re digging yourself deeper into a hole.

Everyone makes mistakes. And even major lapses are unlikely to ruin your career. It’s how you respond that determines whether today’s issue will be a learning event or a complete disaster.

Take a deep breath. And focus on these four things.

Don’t be too hard on yourself.

“You make mistakes. Mistakes don’t make you.” — Maxwell Maltz

With very few exceptions, your average workplace mistake isn’t going to kill anyone. So you weren’t prepared enough for a meeting. Or maybe you became overwhelmed during a presentation and didn’t make the best impression. You’re still breathing. So is everyone else. It’s not the end of the world.

You’re likely harsher on yourself than you are on others. Given this tendency, it’s easy to beat yourself up running through worst-case scenarios. But all that does is destroy your confidence and push you into further errors.

Jake Wilder

I don’t know where I’m going. But at least I know how to get there.