on making mistakes at work.
I hate making mistakes.
Few things make me feel worse than getting my work examined and discovering a silly blunder I made staring back at me. Especially when I reviewed it, and it looked perfect. Sometimes, it makes me feel like there is a conspiracy going on, and somewhere, somehow, the right words I had written were exchanged for the wrong ones to make my life a little tougher, yunno? For the plot.
Word vomit, stuttered apologies, amendments. I hate those. And I have been making a lot of mistakes lately. Minor things, like typos, forgetting to tag people in posts, using the wrong call-to-actions for campaigns. And then the type of mistakes that cannot be edited, like a video going live when it wasn’t supposed to, and emails forwarded to the wrong persons.
Whenever these things happen, I feel a terrible wave of anxiety. In that moment, I'd rather the ground opened up and swallowed me whole. I feel so bad, even for minor things that can be remedied with a sorry and “noted.”
Part of the reason I feel this way is because I want my work to be excellent, always. I want people to think of me with excellence in mind. I want them to give me tasks and go to sleep knowing they will be executed with utmost care and attention. My Uncle once said this about an employee of his: “You can give Tolu work and go to sleep, knowing it has been done.” I was way younger then, with zero experience in the job market, but I remember being in awe of Tolu. I wanted the same to be said about me too.
Don’t get me wrong, I think I am an amazing employee. I get great feedback about my work, and most of the jobs I have gotten have been a result of word being spread. It’s just that growth is really important to me as an individual.
My friend Ugo made this tweet that explains how I feel:
Because this is the standard I have set for myself, making mistakes is not part of my agenda. Mistakes reduce the confidence people have in you. It makes them review your work multiple times to ensure that everything is okay. It calls for conversations where they ask, with a twinge of uncertainty in their voice, “are you sure you can handle this?” And I dislike not being trusted, especially when it comes to work. So when I make mistakes, my world crumbles, and I start to replay not just that mistake but all the other mistakes I have made within a stretch of time, until I am convinced that I am a terrible klutz and I am a stone throw away from unemployment.
A few days ago, I made a mistake that drove me to the streets of the internet in search of solutions. I stumbled upon a subreddit where someone shared their experience. I could recognize that my situation wasn’t as dire as theirs, and I felt immediate sympathy for them. As I browsed through the answers, many of which were very helpful, I felt like they were speaking to me, too.
“You might want to get yourself checked for ADHD/anxiety. Sometimes we have underlying issues that manifest most when we’re stressed. I have a few friends who got diagnosed and they realised in hindsight they had lots of concentration issues, hyper focusing on certain things,” someone said.
“Sometimes I find that I shut down when I get too overwhelmed in life. A few years back, I was broken up with and I was a mess at work even when I tried my hardest not to be. Tasks I swore I had completed ended up not actually being done,” another supplied.
Reading people’s comments, I realised that, yes, I was tired, and my tiredness was probably affecting my work more than I cared to admit. And yes, I was feeling so much anxiety because I was new at certain things, and I wanted people to feel confident in my abilities. I wondered why I hadn’t considered this earlier and why it took feeling sympathy for a stranger on the internet to realise that some of that sympathy could be redirected at myself and my mistakes. Gosh!
Anyways, that night while speaking to a friend, he told me that mistakes make people feel real, and I fought the urge to roll my eyes. It was such a romantic notion, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Many inventions are tied to the human desire for efficiency and accuracy, qualities that don’t come naturally to us. We read articles on AI technology and the threat it poses to human jobs. We watch movies on robot invasions. We are well aware of our lapses and shortcomings as human beings, and we know that what makes us different from our inventions, is among other things, our ability to fail.
Mistakes are also an expression of our vulnerability and our need to connect with others. Mistakes foster collaboration and community. If I’m not good at something and you are good at it, you can help me. This way, we can bond and grow stronger. At work, you can help me review my tasks, and give me feedback, and I can do the same for you. By this, we learn from each other and grow.
Mistakes are also an expression of our artistic inclinations as human beings; a demonstration of our vulnerability. I once learned about Kintsugi, the Japanese art of filling cracks in pottery with gold. It is built on the idea that by embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger and more beautiful piece of art. I think that’s such a lovely thing to exist. Mistakes allow us to express our creativity by solving problems.
Of course, these expressions don’t make them any less annoying or make me falter in my quest for perfection. But if you remember that mistakes are simply a byproduct of your existence, I think making them becomes easier to bear.
I know you probably didn’t come this far to hear only things that will make you feel good, so if you struggle with mistakes, here are a few things to consider:
Don’t Multitask. You are not Flash. Focus on one thing at a time.
Carefully review your work. It’s better to send it in a few minutes late than to make a mistake that could stress you, and cost your company a lot.
Ask someone else to help you revise, if possible.
Be upfront about your mistakes, apologize and try not to repeat them.
Always clarify and ask questions about the minutest details. If you think the person you ask would be annoyed, consider how much more annoyed they’d be if you mess up.
Your heroes have made mistakes too. Grave ones! They’re human, just like you. So don’t sweat the small stuff, give yourself grace.
Rest! You’re probably making mistakes because you’re tired, anxious and stressed.
I hope this helps, and as always, I’m rooting for you.
So that’s all for this week. Happy new month, my guys! Praying September will be a warm and fulfilling month for you. Mid august, we got to 500 subscribers, and it made me so excited. Thank you so much for reading and loving this newsletter. I love and appreciate you guys so much!
As usual, Media I consumed this week
I finished Season 1 of Alchemy of Souls on Sunday, and my soul left my body. I haven’t recovered. The ending had me shook, and I cannot wait for Season 2 in December.
I listened to Modern Love, a podcast. A particular episode titled “The Night Girl finds a Day Boy” made me feel really soft. It was about compromise in love. I have been thinking about it ever since.
I have been listening to a lot of K-indie. It makes for really good work music. I have always been a fan of Dean. If you want to get into his music, start with the song, Instagram.
Malcolm explains how kids who are raised to question things and stand up to authorities are more likely to grow up to become bolder and more confident when compared to kids who were groomed to keep quiet or not question adults or authorities. If only Malcolm knew how relatable his idea is to an average African [or a Yoruba person, to be more specific and accurate].
And this short piece on loss made me feel so emotional.
I think this is probably the longest I have written to you guys, but I hope you enjoyed it. As always, leave a comment or write back telling me how it made you feel!
Till next time!