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Morning Buzz: The First Big Mistake

Posted on December 8, 2018


Homer Simpson looking at a lot of buttons.

What I’m watching – our City Council’s last Priority Setting session because it will be MY job to coordinate it this year, and I need all the help I can get.

What I’m readingHeartland by Sarah Smarsh, which is such an honest, tender, unapologetic look at my home state and the people there.


If you read my last Morning Buzz about making friends (no pressure, but it’s pretty good), you know I recently started a new job. Whenever that happens, there’s a learning curve that comes with it. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how smart or capable you are, there will still be things you don’t know. No two organizations are quite the same. I’ve learned a lot about my new organization and my team in the last six months. Some of it has been easy, but most of it has been pretty challenging, which is great because that’s exactly why I accepted this job.

Recently, though, I really messed up. I guess in the grand scheme of things, no one died or even got a little injured, but there were some harsh words said  and I let some people down. As someone who does everything they can to prevent situations like that from happening (hello first child perfectionism!), I took it pretty hard. I definitely cried and conducted a frenzied review of all my current work. I wrote a number of extremely apologetic emails. I really felt like I let my supervisor, City Manager, and whole team down. One of my coworkers, who is definitely a new friend and a wonderful person, took me out of the office to get some coffee and talk about it. At one point, as often happens after a mistake, I said “at least I learned something from all this.”

My coworker made the observation that people only say that after something goes wrong. If someone overheard me, they would know I made a mistake or something bad happened. They would never assume I was saying that about something amazing.

At the time, I was too wrapped up in remorse to consider this, but now it feels like an Ah-Ha! moment. Obviously there’s value in learning from our mistakes, but are we being unappreciative of what we learn from our success?

Why DON’T we talk about what we learned from the great things we’ve done? Why is it only the negative things, the mistakes that make us take a second look?

For me, being able to focus on what I learned from the mistake allowed me to put a positive spin on something that felt all negative, which is probably very similar for others. We need more positives in that situation than we do when something goes really, really right and we’re awash with positives. Or maybe it’s a matter of not noticing it at all. When things go the way they’re supposed to, we continue moving forward without even pausing to consider what makes that possible.

In honor of my First Big Mistake at My New Job, I’m going to try it out on success. I’m going to dissect that success like it’s a mistake and identify all the steps I took to arrive at that oh, so successful outcome. Because while making mistakes builds character, etc., so does success. And achievements in local government usually indicate a lot of dedicated people who held a lot of meetings and put a lot of time and effort into making this go well. Even more than mistakes, I think that deserves the honor of a thorough retrospective.

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