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Mistakes made well

Use more of your bow. And more pressure.

You’re playing too small, too timid because you’re afraid to make mistakes. Play louder, mistakes and all. Play through the mistakes, don’t stop.

This was advice from my violin instructor this week.

She’s a lovely young woman with a degree in viola performance, which I didn’t know was a thing, but which I also think is super cool. She wanted me to know, I think, that I’ll never get good if I don’t start out awful. But also that mistakes are not something to be done quietly or apologetically. They are a part of any process of growing.

I was jolted back to this a couple days later when a pretty huge mistake was discovered at work. A mistake that I had a hand in allowing to happen.

Without going into too much detail, the upshot was that a letter that should have gone out to about twenty-six hundred people went out to over fifty-seven thousand people.

Ouch. I still cringe at that number.

Now true, no one was irreparably harmed by this mistake, but it’s still big in my world. It’s embarrassing to me, to my colleagues, and to my company. It erodes trust in us and could ultimately lead to a loss of business especially if it’s accompanied by other such mistakes.

It’s also really confusing to members who are already all too often confused by what we do.

My reaction was to want to crawl in a hole and hide. And definitely to never ever speak to anyone I worked with ever again. Also, to cry many, many tears of frustration. Frustration at myself for letting such a simple thing get past me and frustration at all the work others would now have to do to help me clean it up.

I tried to reason with myself. Mistakes happen to everyone; no one is perfect. This isn’t the first time for this kind of error and it won’t be the last. You’ve helped clean up lots of messes; it’s part of the job. Lots of people missed this, not just you, etc., etc. All to no avail.

What a burden I am! I thought to myself as I cried harder.

I spent a day like this. Inconsolable.

The next day though - seriously like magic - I felt totally different. Stronger.

I was honest to the right people about what happened and I apologized. I didn’t hide, but in fact, offered my help where I could to help remedy the situation.

I also allowed the incident to be a wake-up call.

I asked myself, was I really paying the attention to my work that I promise to by receiving my salary each month? The answer was no. It was a careless mistake by someone who is not careless as a rule, but was in that moment and maybe has been a little too much of late.

None of this feels like enough, of course, and I still hate that it happened. I still get a niggle of embarrassment in my gut when I think of that number. But I keep reminding myself that’s the way it goes sometimes. Mistakes pretty much always suck and the bigger and more public they are, the more that’s true. Pretending otherwise just doesn't help.

And thus, the important lessons taken from this whole misadventure.

That the awfulness is normal. That you can’t skip over it. That hiding makes things worse.

These are the things that popular wisdom seldom emphasizes enough. Just because you know mistakes might turn out well in the long run does not erase the fact that they suck initially.

Sure, sure, tell yourself all the things you’ll come to realize eventually, that mistakes are part of life, that they are opportunities, that this is not the end of the world. It’s important to counter the stories you might be telling yourself, but it’s not to talk yourself out of feeling crappy.

Although many of us try to do that anyway.

We still think what we know should override what we feel. Which I promise, simply reinforces that we should be ashamed when we feel it anyway and makes a hard thing harder.

So, let’s agree to stop this, ok? It’s not the way to do this well.

Let’s admit that once and for all and just be done with it finally.

Because whether we like it or not, the only way to get past a mistake and feel better is to own what we did and take all that comes with it.

Or maybe I should say…

Play louder. Play through.

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16. Nov. 2020

Bravo, my friend! On all fronts. Love that you're learning (or re-learning?) the violin. Inspires me to pick up my cello from many moons ago.

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