The Sweet Effect of Learning From Mistakes

If I look back on the last 15 years of my career, it’s chock full of screw-ups. Some were fairly big, like deciding to major in graphic design despite being color-blind. There were others that were small, like deciding to buy my first suit at Sears or owning a clip-on tie. I wish that were a joke.

There were also more obvious ones. Bombing a job interview, hitting the reply all on a snarky email, or gossiping about a co-worker only to have it get back to them. The icing on the mistake cake may be the time I told my wife “shhh” when she was in labor. (That is not wise, fellas.)

In each screw up, there was a common thread that was woven through those failures. They each helped to shape who I am today. At the time, some of the bigger career-related mistakes seemed disastrous. Unrecoverable. Career-ending. I once gave a presentation to a group of executives and I choked terribly. It was quite possibly the worst presentation in the history of presentations, and I knew it. And unfortunately, judging by the body language and reaction of my audience, they knew it, too.

That failure hurt. It made me never want to get up in front of a group again. I had nightmares about it. But I realized never speaking to a large group again was simply not an option. So I did the opposite. I started tackling any and every opportunity I could get my hands on to present and speak. Small groups, large groups, college classes, high school classes, conferences….anywhere I could. I learned from my horrible presentation failure, I am still learning from it, and it has actually made me enjoy public speaking today.

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young professional was putting myself first in my career. Career was about me first and getting to the top rung of the never-ending corporate ladder.

My perspective was challenged on a service trip to the Dominican Republic in 2011. It was my first international service trip and there I realized how messed up my focus was. I learned on that trip that anyone making more than $34K/year was in the top 1 percent of earners in the world. But I still wanted more money. And not more so I could use it for a higher purpose, but for myself. How embarrassing. What a mistake.

Since returning from the trip, I founded the Dispatch Project, an organization that helps businesspeople experience international service trips. My hope is that everyone who participates has the same awakening as I did. I realized my error in thinking in the Dominican and grew from the experience.

In an effort to help others learn from my mistake, I also try to promote a healthy work-life balance for my employees. At Click Rain, all of our employees know about the “faith, family, work” priority that we continually reinforce. As soon as you make the mistake of switching those up, bad things happen.

You can go ahead and try working a 60-hour week, and then spend the 1-2 hours of a 24 hour day with your spouse and kids and then try and find time for your faith. That mistake will likely get you in a spot you don’t want to be in.

Some mistakes you recognize the minute they happen. But other mistakes take years to recognize. We need to look for mistakes we make, and sometimes we need to look hard. Don’t be discouraged when you make mistakes, or when you realize you’ve been making a mistake – whether that’s as minor as botching a client presentation or as major as assuming your career is about you. When we find those screw-ups, recognize them, and embrace them, what they teach is amazing.