“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.” -Rick Warren

I used to beat myself up for every mistake that I made. Well, to be completely honest, I still do. But I’ve learned to do it in a much more gentle way these days.

Mistakes are hard. No one wants to fail. They can be embarrassing, discouraging and even cause us to be defensive. But they don’t have to be defeating. Everyone makes them. It’s the time that follows a mistake that defines us not the mistake itself.

Some people always seem to handle everything perfectly. You know these people–they are the ones that setbacks seem to bounce right off of them and that have the ability work situations in their favor. But it’s not because they don’t make mistakes. It’s because they’ve cultivated their ability to step back and reflect.

Five Things To Do When You Make A Mistake

1. Don’t immediately get defensive. Someone calls you out on something that you could have done better. Or maybe you are the only one who’s realized that you screwed up. Our gut reaction is to defend our actions and to search for a reason to justify them–even to ourselves. But sometimes we are just plain wrong. It’s only when we admit that we could have done better and own up to our own mistakes that we can do things better going forward. 

2. Reflect on the mistake. You can’t change the past but you can change the future. Don’t let little mistakes become very big ones. Take a breath and look hard at the situation. Visualize it from other people’s points of view. Understand the consequences of your error and then seek the help or guidance to learn how not to make the same mistake again. It can feel all-encompassing when you’re in the thick of it, but remember that if you never admit to and learn from our mistakes, you can’t grow.

3. Look at the bigger picture and don’t lose sight of your broader goal. Own up to your mistakes but don’t forget to put them in to perspective. Yes, maybe you did something that made someone else upset. Maybe you could have handled a situation differently or maybe you were rushing and doing too many things at once and made an error in an important report. In most instances, the mistakes we make are small in the grand scheme of things. Ask yourself, “How does this mistake affect my ultimate goals?”

4. Move on. Plain and simple. Don’t get caught up in the drama that can surround a mistake. Once you’ve reflected on your mistake and have learned how to be better the next time, don’t let others dra

g you down. People love to talk and connect and the source of that connection is often gossip. Shut it down with positivity and encouragement. It’s contagious.

5. Embrace imperfection…in everything. Be forgiving about other’s mistakes that affect you and learn to forgive yourself. Focus on empathy and look for the bright spots in life. Some of the most beautiful moments in life are born of mistakes we’ve made. Live and live forward.

Leaders make mistakes but they make them with grace. That grace comes from humility, a desire to be better and an understanding that life is really all about imperfection. As Sheryl Sandberg says, “Lean In.”

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