I have never made as many mistakes at work as I have in the last 8 weeks. I have managed to permanently lose research data, unwittingly distribute private data, and inadvertently obstruct the proper collection of new data. I am 34 years old, I’ve been working in and around design for 13 years, I am in a new job, and I have somehow entered into a phase of novice fuck-uppery. My previous conceptions of myself as a professional, reliable employee have been utterly dashed.
I tried on console myself by dredging through memories of past mistakes, whose shame I eventually overcame. Like getting myself locked in a restaurant toilet for 45 minutes, having to have the door kicked down, only then noticing the sign warning ‘lock is broken’. Disobeying my mother and leaving candles unattended next to my duvet and setting my bed on fire. Taking on the responsibility of feeding my friend’s python while she was on holiday, only to leave the lid of its glass tank ajar…
I know that many humans have lived and died having made worse mistakes. Life gives you no choice about collecting moments of embarrassment as you pass through it. Mistakes are unconcerned with appropriateness and indiscriminate about where and when they occur but each and every time, I am caught off guard by just how awful it feels.
I recently read about a psychological study that showed all of us tend to overestimate our good qualities. Sure, we know we can’t run the fastest 100 metres, but when it comes to virtue, we rate ourselves with superior kindness and patience, diligence, intelligence and morality. Despite understanding how averages are calculated, we still believe that it must be us that sits beyond the bell curve of everyone else.
It’s a tough sell for our poor brains - to maintain a belief that we are perfect while making the same unflattering gaffes as every other jerk. But surely to whither and die with regret over an error or a quest to reestablish your impeccable reputation or conversely, to resign yourself to life on the fringes, these are not acts of reparation but rather, ultimate acts of self-indulgence.
So after introspection held no answers or comfort, I thought instead of those I have known who could never be ruffled like this. Who, if they forgot your name, would apologise in a way that lifts you both higher. Those who work solidly during appropriate work hours but sacrifice personal time without any sense of martyrdom. Who laugh at themselves, even if the joke is cruel, because they know that humans are lots of things all at once and valuing just one of those things above all others is a recipe for self-punishment.
They aren’t all one person, nor are they prone to any of these qualities all the time. But I know through them I have encountered humility, in all its subtly and power. And perhaps, like as it is with them, it can be practiced.
So I will start tomorrow with a mantra:
That everyday is a new opportunity to fuck up spectacularly.
Still I will contribute my best without compromise.
And fail without surprise that I was wrong.