How to Turn Your Mistakes Into Opportunities
Temporary failings can be the key to growth and success.
Anyone with small children in their lives knows the struggle of trying to explain that everyone makes mistakes. We elaborate as much as we can by telling these young, impressionable minds that mistakes are normal; they’re natural and help us learn and grow. But why, then, are we so quick to turn about and berate ourselves for every self-inflicted mishap we encounter? Perhaps we feel we’re too old to be making such mistakes in our personal and professional lives. Or maybe we simply find it too difficult to practice what we preach. Whatever the reason, it’s never too late to remind yourself that when one door closes, another opens — even if we are the ones who must pry the new door open ourselves.
Your mistakes will teach you far more than any textbook can, as it’s more often than not we must experience what we’ve studied in order to gain any value from it. For example, you may have spent months studying digital marketing in a classroom only to land that first marketing role and realize you have no idea what you’re doing. You watched an instructor show you how to do everything from organizing a drip campaign to targeting the right audience for your PPC campaigns, but that doesn’t mean you can expertly handle every wrench thrown in the works. You’re bound to make mistakes in any professional role, just as you are in your personal life.
Mistakes are human nature. Instead of taking the L to heart, keep moving forward by turning those mistakes into opportunities.
Admit and accept
If you’ve ever had a boss or work colleague who refused to admit when he or she was wrong and instead opted to shift blame, you already know how mind-numbingly frustrating it is when people can’t own up to their mistakes. Don’t be that person. Not only are you rejecting any possible growth, but you’re also harming those around you and potentially creating a toxic environment.
Before you can learn from your mistake, be it personal or professional, you have to acknowledge said mistake and accept it. When you were younger, did you take any musical instrument lessons? Did you play any sports or take up any hobbies? Unless you were a child prodigy (and even prodigies make mistakes, mind you), you messed up a key here and there or missed a goal or two. Those misses were hits to your ego, but they did not mean you wouldn’t improve with practice and consistency. In fact, it was through those flubs you figured out, “Hey, this didn’t work.”
Once you’re able to admit and accept your mistakes, you can begin to push forward.
Ask yourself what went wrong
Yes, admitting defeat is difficult, but if you could make that admission, you can do what comes next: Ask yourself the tough questions. What exactly went wrong? Why did it go wrong? What did I learn from this? And, finally, how can I avoid this from happening moving forward?
Whip out a pen and some paper and jot it all down. No one is asking you to write a dissertation on why your recent influencer campaign went down the drain or why your multimillion-dollar real-estate transaction fell apart at the last minute. But, much like how we write to-do lists so we can clearly see what’s in store for us that day, it’s essential to write out this step of the exercise.
Often, seeing things in writing helps us process and understand what happened. Having it in writing may even help you avoid making the same mistake again, especially if the steps leading up to the error were complex.
Whether you list out the questions and answer them, or you opt to create a flowchart that helps you better understand any weak points, be thorough and elaborate. You may just help someone else in your position in the near future, and having it all hashed out will decrease the possibility of this mistake repeating itself again and again.
Assess your environment
Do you work in a safe environment that allows for open discussions of failures? If you’re in a leadership role, you need to assess the environment in which you and your team members work and pinpoint any areas of concern. If those who work under you cannot have those crucial conversations about shortcomings, you will only create resentment and fear. If you are not in a leadership role, you may need to have a meeting with superiors to discuss your concerns. Whatever the case, be it you’re the leader or someone else is, you cannot be the only person who understands what went wrong.
Everyone should be on the same page so that any future brainstorming sessions have the details to pinpoint the next move. Along with your colleagues, you can assess the facts and collect important data. Do your best to remain neutral, even if you’re still internally reeling over what went wrong. In order not to repeat the past, you need to be objective right now.
Develop your plan
Willpower alone may not prevent you from taking shortcuts in the future, so be sure to develop a plan that works for you based on what you’ve learned. Doing so will make it harder for you to repeat mistakes that could lead to another disaster, and having a plan in place will help you stay on track as much as possible.
Sometimes our biggest blunders were the result of several small mishaps that led to an unpredicted development. Be detailed in your plan, but be sure the plan is flexible, as it is unlikely the exact same factors will be in place in the future. Whether you ask a colleague to be your accountability partner or you choose to hold yourself accountable, it is crucial you commit to said plan and stay focused.
The bottom line here is not to beat yourself up too harshly when you make a mistake. Instead, work on being flexible and adaptable. Each mistake is a learning opportunity, no matter how big or small, and even the most successful CEOs had complex roadblocks and setbacks to overcome. So learn from yourself, learn from others and keep moving forward with the knowledge and experience gained.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor