How to Own Your Failures and Preserve Self-Confidence
Whenever I screw up, I mentally punish myself for being so stupid.
Then I question my ability to get the job done. I wonder, “How the hell did I miss that?”
Then I start feeling like a fraud. I worry about others finding out that I’m not as good as they think — that I don’t live up to the reputation I’m known for.
This series of thoughts is known as the “Imposter Syndrome”. It’s when we think about things that trigger self-doubt. But wait…it gets worse.
When you doubt yourself, others will notice and will do the same thing — they will doubt your ability as well. This causes you to lose a little bit of confidence.
And when you lose confidence, you are more likely to mess something up again.
This creates a downward cycle that causes you to lose every bit of confidence you have left. Thus, confirming your suspicion that you’re not as good as you think. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So what can you do to stop it?
“Everyone Makes Mistakes” Is An Excuse
Some say they are comfortable at making mistakes (myself included). But even if that’s the case, you cannot deny that the initial sting still hurts!
And when you’re hurt, your ego will do anything in its power to preserve its “perfect” image. That’s why we are so crafty at finding legit excuses and reasons to avoid fault. When you’re free of fault, then you must be that good…right?
This is the ego’s own version of self-confidence — the kind that damages our self-esteem. It hides our flaws instead of accepting them.
Most newbies feel comfortable with mistakes simply because they are new. It’s only natural for them to screw up. However, this becomes harder for people who have a reputation to maintain.
I’m sure you also have a reputation to maintain — not only to others but to yourself. And like the others, you also try to keep that reputation for as long as you can.
However, “stuff” happens. And when it does, how do you react to it?
Do you give yourself a hard time?
Or do you brush the dirt off your shoulder and move on?
I do both. First, I give myself a hard time. This is to tell me that I take my mistakes seriously. Then I move on.
A lot of us are scared of acknowledging our screw-ups because it negatively affects how we look to other people. But understand that everyone understands that mistakes happen. This doesn’t only apply to your personal life but also to your career.
We try to avoid as many mistakes as we can because we see them as a threat to our “mistake-free annual” performance. However, doing that makes you complacent. It puts you on “defense-mode”. You avoid taking risks because taking risks increases your chances of failing. It makes you forget that you need to fail to grow.
Everyone makes mistakes. It’s a cliché thing to say. However, most people use it as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for screwing up, instead of acknowledging to themselves that they are flawed like everyone else.
And then there are those situations where we clearly screwed something up. You know it. Everybody knows it. How you react shows how much you value your ego over your self-esteem.
This reminds me of that time when a shipment was sent back to us from our customer. It was tagged “defective”.
As a shop inspector, I measured the defective part against the blueprint. But all the measurements are good. I was confused.
Then I told my manager about it and explained how there might have been a mistake. I was confident I had a good case. But then he asked, “Are you sure about this…?”
I was…until…he pointed out that the defect has nothing to do with the measurements.
What we sent to the customer was a mirror-image of what they’re asking for. Oops.
Now, I could’ve blamed the engineer who drew the blueprint for making it confusing. But instead of doing that, I openly admit to the fault: I wasn’t paying close attention.
I can tell from my manager’s reaction that he has doubts about my ability to do my job properly. That’s not something to be taken lightly. However, I’m proud of myself for being honest about it. Why?
You gain more respect (from yourself — not from others) for taking responsibility than come up with well-thought-out excuses to get out of blame or failure. Yup, easier said than done. I get it. Anything that damages our ego is a lot easier said than done.
However, understand that while full admission to a mistake is painful, it also opens the opportunity for growth. That unbearable “pain” you experience is what pushes you to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s where brilliant solutions come from.
Own the mistake for the sake of career growth instead of shying away from it.
“Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.” ― Jocko Willink
“Embrace your mistakes”, they say — but that doesn’t mean you should turn into a scapegoat. I’ve been one before and it’s no fun. When you admit to a failure, make sure it’s within reason. All I’m saying is that when we mess up, we need to fully admit it instead of passing it on to others.
I don’t know anybody who enjoys playing the blame-game. It goes to show how we avoid mistakes like plague. But why?
Our ego drives us to do so. It’s just trying to help us secure our status within the group — to survive. But it can get in the way of preserving our self-confidence.
Self-confidence is built through a series of successes and failures — not by avoidance of fault.