Motivation Monday: Mistakes

Art school taught me a lot more than art. It taught me perspective, open-mindedness, and constructive criticism. It also taught me to accept my mistakes, to really look at them and not turn away, and how to correct them.

I never expected that the knowledge I gained in art school would be applied so often to my everyday life.  As a graphic designer in corporate American, it was my job to correct mistakes – including my own! Let me share with you my first BIG mistake at my first job out of college. It was a Y2K publication for the city’s utility division. I typeset and designed a brochure at the city’s request, to let everyone know that all of their computer systems would run smoothly on January 1, 2000. What didn’t run so smoothly was my mistake, that wasn’t caught until after thousands of brochures were printed and distributed. I had left the L out of public, not once but a few times. How embarrassing! I know I ran spell check but since pubic is a word, it wasn’t recognized as a mistake.

I was fortunate to eventually work with a team of proofreaders, who could catch mistakes like that before they were even printed. I eventually went on to work for a publisher with editors, who did not hold back to point out every little problem from the improper use of a comma to an extra space after a period. With every red mark that came back to me, I examined my mistakes closely before correcting them.

Since leaving my art career and joining healthcare, I have somewhat become the editor. I work now as an auditor, reviewing provider documentation for errors. Finding mistakes isn’t a bad thing. Imagine if we, everyone, always did everything right. The world would be stagnant and there would be little room for learning and growth.

When I meet with providers to share the results of their audit, I approach it with the same thinking – here is an opportunity to grow. I share with them ways to correct their mistakes and better care for their patients, capture lost revenue, etc.

Not all providers are receptive. Many providers are perfectionists. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing! I personally want a provider who not only strives to do their best, but cares for me in the same manner. However, many providers have always excelled in life. I imagine they were valedictorians or deemed “Most Likely to Succeed” in their high schools; they probably graduated with high honors from college. It’s just who they are. So, the thought of me… an art school grad turned auditor… sharing with them that their documentation could use improvement, is probably like a black belt being told by a swimmer that their karate uniform isn’t as white as their peers. I have had some providers so upset that they shut me off completely, refusing to change.

So, I guess it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise to me when I recently asked a law firm to correct the spelling of my name on a legal document they had recorded for me, and they told me it was no big deal. No big deal to correct the mistake? No… they meant the misspelling was no big deal. I was floored. Was I being over-sensitive? Was I wrong to ask them to fix this? I started to question myself. Maybe I should just let this go? But the legal document was recorded under a name that wasn’t mine, or rather didn’t match in spelling, and that could cause more problems down the road.

The more I tried to justify who was right, the more I realized that – in general – humans do not like to admit that they could possibly be wrong, or that they have room for improvement. I include myself in this. Despite my education and experiences, and feeling like I do accept responsibility for my mistakes and make an effort to correct them, I am human and I’m not perfect. Everyone has room to grow in character… always.

Not everyone accepts responsibility for their mistakes, though. Not everyone wants to make an effort to do their part. If they did, would it solve a lot of problems? I truly believe it would be worth the effort to try. Take, for instance, the recent situations throughout the United States involving law enforcement and African-Americans. Instead of each party believing (and arguing) that what they have done is right, what if both saw their mistakes and worked to fix those. After all, it is easier to change ourselves than it is to change someone else. Instead of only seeing our perspective, maybe we should consider everyone’s perspective. It really isn’t that difficult to do, but we do have to make a conscious effort to retrain the way we think; to be less self-aware.

Today, I want to encourage you to rethink mistakes. If someone asks you to correct a mistake that you have made, own up to that mistake. Take control of it, analyze it, and correct it. Approach mistakes in a positive manner. Consider what you could have done better, and how you can avoid it in the future. If you find your own mistake, don’t discredit it. We learn from those too.  Change a misspelling, say you’re sorry, or simply agree to disagree and work on solution – these small acts can (and will) motivate many and provoke a wonderful ripple effect.

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