Is the Fear of Mistakes Holding You Back?
I saw a post on Facebook the other day that stated, in effect, when a child learning to walk falls down again and again, he or she never comes to the conclusion that “I guess walking isn’t for me.”
Very few of us are good at an activity the first time we attempt it. We learn by trial and error. We make an attempt and we find out what works, what doesn’t and then, armed with this knowledge, we try again. When a little leaguer steps up to the plate for the first time, coaches don’t expect a home run; they are happy if the child is able to touch the bat to the ball and run in the right direction.
We expect this from children, but somewhere along the way we forget that this is also true for adults. The first day on the job is always one of the most challenging because everything is new, and it takes time to gain a clear understanding of both of the job and of the organization. Yet many of us don’t want to ask questions, for fear of looking “weak.” We try so hard to be perfect that we make more mistakes than if we’d asked for more information.
But look at it from the other direction: When a new team member asked you a question, would you think he or she was stupid? Of course not. In fact, most people would want to support them because not only would they be able to pull their weight that much quicker, but because it’s simply what our teammates deserve. It’s what we would have wanted — it’s what we did want — when we were starting out.
When it comes down to it, though, we are ultimately responsible for our own education, and part of that is being open to making — and owning — mistakes. Most mistakes are opportunities for growth. No one sets out to fail; we’re wanting to knock it out of the park. Mistakes, however, are the necessary steps we all take toward achieving a worthwhile goal. They may sting at the time, but they are badges we earn on our way to wisdom, growth and improvement.
Better than simply fearing mistakes is making the effort to avoid making the same mistake more than once. This is where, if we’re wise, we seek out a coach, a mentor or a co-mentor so they can examine our performance and guide us on how to better handle our next attempt. It’s not enough to just practice, because if we don’t know where the opportunity lies, we can’t make adjustments to fix it. If we practice doing the wrong thing time and again, we’re just reinforcing behavior we’ll have to unlearn later. Only perfect practice makes perfect, and this is where a coach and/or mentor is invaluable.
Making some mistakes when we’re starting out will happen, but there’s another danger zone that many people are unaware of, and that is where we have experience and we begin to think we know everything about the activity. When we decide that we are experts, and that we have nothing left to learn, that’s when pride rears its ugly head again and prevents us from achieving our goals.
Even when we are well-versed in a subject, times change, people change and sometimes the very rules of the game we’re playing change. Here’s an example: “Mr. Experience” has been a salesman on the dealership floor for 25 years. He’s seen peers and management come and go, but Mr. Experience has lived through it all, and no one at the dealership has more experience. Lately, however, he’s been in a slump and can’t figure out why. His approach really hasn’t changed — he believes “you don’t fix what ain’t broke” — but his numbers are on a downhill slide. In fact, he’s regularly passed by newer sales consultants with a tenth of his experience. Something is broken.
If he considers himself an “expert” and doesn’t want to appear weak in front of the newer sales consultants — if he’s not open to new ideas and constructive criticism — his career is soon going to come to an end at that dealership. If, however, he asks for advice and guidance from his GM or manager, who observes his interaction with customers, Mr. Experience might be told:
• He needs to study and understand new vehicles and automotive technology, because he consistently needs to look up information that many customers already know, and he’s losing credibility.
• He needs to gain a better understanding of the dealership’s CRM. The newer sales consultants always seem to have more people to follow up with because they do a better job of entering and tracking their clients in this valuable tool.
All of these opportunities for growth are there for Mr. Experience, but only if he is aware of them. If he takes this coaching to heart, truly viewing these as opportunities to grow, this will be the first step to improving his performance.
Unless we’re walking a high wire without a net, mistakes aren’t fatal. When our egos won’t allow us to take away the lessons we need from those mistakes, however, our growth and momentum stop. We can’t rob ourselves of the chance to reach our full potential.
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