Don’t be afraid of making mistake

January 26, 2019

A FRIEND at work once told me, “Many people don’t work to win. Rather, they work not to fail.” What he meant is that many employees play it safe. They are terrified of making mistakes and being criticized by their bosses. So they do the bare minimum in their jobs and keep their mouths shut. However, they stunt their professional growth and limit their career enhancement.

In contrast, “working to win” means taking initiative and delivering more than expected. They tackle their jobs with passion. They welcome new assignments as opportunities to stretch and flourish. When their boss gives them a “sermon,” they don’t take it personally. Rather, they consider this as valuable feedback to learn the ropes and learn how to improve themselves.

What makes the difference between “working not to fail” versus “working to win”? One basic reason is that the former is dominated by fear of making a mistake. I think it is normal to be afraid of committing mistakes, especially if those blunders can cost the company lots of money and time.

But there is healthy fear such as the simple act of crossing a busy street. Healthy fear rightly raises the danger of a speeding truck squashing us into a bloody pulp. But that doesn’t mean that we lock ourselves at home, as some phobia-stricken people actually do. Rather, we learn the traffic rules (when to stop at the corner and when to start walking) and skills (such as looking at our right and our left). As we get better at them, we cross the street until it becomes second nature to us.

Will this totally eliminate the risk of being roadkill? Of course not; what if an approaching car is driven by some psychopath who loves to run over puppies and grandmothers? But since you don’t see this happening every day, you deem this nightmare scenario unlikely. The principle therefore is not on absence of risk, but reasonable risk. This reasonable risk enables you to take a step of faith, literally and figuratively, that we will still be in one piece when we get to the other side.

The practical antidote to fear of making mistakes is thorough preparation. We do our homework, ask a lot of questions, clarify our objectives, double or triple check our data, and challenge our assumptions. We also make it a point to acquire the necessary skills through proper training and evaluated practice. However, beware of being mired in analysis paralysis. Give yourself a timetable when you can step out in faith and accept that new responsibility, make a decision or launch an action plan.

One more thing: most people neglect the valuable resource of seasoned and trustworthy mentors who can alert you of what mistakes to avoid. They will share things you won’t learn from books and guide you on how to maximize your chances of success. Let’s face it: nobody really knows everything, let alone absorbing them all at once. It takes humility, curiosity, resourcefulness, initiative and, most of all, time to learn.

Let me end with this insight: “Fail but fail faster. That way, you can win earlier.”

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