The Power of Admitting Your Mistakes

So many of us think that getting everything right all the time is the most important thing. We think it makes us powerful, that people will look up to us and we’ll earn people’s respect if we personify perfection. Sadly, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Admitting your mistakes and failures shows your vulnerability. And showing vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Showing yourself as a human being with all your flaws is valued much more than showing yourself as a robot who never falters.

Think for a moment – do you admire people who dared to say “I’m sorry, I made a mistake” or do you admire people who think they’re always right? I’m quite sure the former get more praise, as they show vulnerability and honesty.

A gif of a woman explaining she's always right, makes no mistakes

Making a mistake and admitting it is a strength that some never master. Covering up and not admitting your mistake is a cowardly act, but inexplicably some believe it to be the right way to behave.

Who do You Look Up to?

I look up to people whose vulnerability I’ve seen. I’ve seen them make mistakes and I’ve seen them apologize. Apologizing for an error shows that you recognize you screwed up.

If you don’t apologize, most people will assume that you don’t know that you made a mistake or that you simply don’t care. As a result, they won’t perceive you as a strong individual who’s able to own up to his/her mistakes.

It takes a lot of courage to admit you’re wrong, especially when making a huge mistake. But if you do that, you’re rewarded with trust and loyalty.

Your honesty stands out in a world driven by fake happy lives on social media. By showing that you’re human, it’s easier for people to forgive you. If people don’t see your humanity, you’re hard to forgive. Having crazy expectations for ourselves and others forces us to fake our happiness, which eventually leads to a breakdown.

We look up to people who are courageous, smart, well-spoken and self-confident. We criticize people who pretend to have these qualities. For instance, I’ve noticed that people who want to look perfect (on social media, for example) are often the furthest from it.

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Social Media Makes it Worse

Admitting your mistakes on social media is a rarity. It almost never happens. People just delete the post if they realize they’ve made a mistake. I have several people in my friends’ list who post some really questionable stuff, then get criticized in the comments and delete the post.

This, to me, shows extreme weakness – if you dared to say something, then own up to it. It doesn’t matter whether you said it on Facebook or in real life. If you can’t own up to your words later, don’t post them. When you’ve made a mistake, admit it.

Woman saying own up to your shit and mistakes

If you notice that someone posts pictures of their extremely happy (love) life every day, and you’re close to this person, you should sit down and have a deep talk. There’s a high probability that something’s wrong.

I know countless examples of couples who “love each other so much” on social media and break up a few months later. If you need validation for your relationship from social media, then something’s wrong.

I’m not referring to people who post about their happy relationship every once in a while, but those posts which are daily, and overflowing with love and cheesy quotes.

To not turn this post into a (social media) rant, I’ll continue on a topic which I’ve had mostly positive experiences with – leadership and vulnerability.

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Leadership and Vulnerability

“To err is human, to forgive divine”.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

I’m a stubborn and impatient person. I can push hard to get what I want, and people can get hurt along the way. Sadly, I’ve learned it the hard way. Telling the truth is an important thing, but it’s not always the most important thing. It’s also about how you tell the truth.

I’m thankful I’ve mostly worked with people in my life who dare to tell the truth. Being led by such people is even better. Seeing how people with a lot of power act with their “subordinates”, whether they’re employees, children, or acquaintances, tells me so much about their character, and it allows me to figure them out quickly.

I also appreciate it a lot when a person in a leadership position points out my mistake or apologizes for their own mistakes. Of course, there’s a difference between saying “you’re wrong” vs offering a good explanation of why I’m wrong and how I can improve.

These are the moments when I learn the most, and I absolutely love them. To me, they’re very much the “a-ha” moments. Everything aligns all of a sudden – I understand my mistake and I’ll do things differently the next time.

Fireworks
This is how my a-ha moments feel

That’s why direct and constructive feedback is so important – it helps people see their weaknesses, admit them, and grow through the process.

Most of the times when we make a mistake, we know it’s a mistake, especially when it’s on a personal level. In a work setting it’s different. If you try to innovate or create something, you usually make mistakes that you’re not aware of.

And that’s why I classify mistakes into two categories: intentional and unintentional.

Intentional mistakes

When we know in advance that we are going to do something wrong, we can call it an intentional mistake. The most well-known examples include cheating, crimes (robberies, murders etc.), lying, etc.

When we commit these acts, our moral compass should tell us beforehand that it’s wrong. If you don’t think cheating or lying are things you shouldn’t do, then something is probably wrong and you likely need professional help.

Two people sitting with a text "lieabetes"
I’m not sure how the professionals cure lieabetes

Before choosing to make an intentional mistake, a voice in our brain usually reminds us that it’s wrong and makes us consider the consequences.

We then make the decision to listen to it or ignore it. But we can’t later say that “I didn’t know this would be the outcome” or “I didn’t do it on purpose”. Of course, you can say these things but only a fool will believe you.

Unintentional mistakes

“Humans are erroneous” defines unintentional mistakes the best. We all make mistakes, and (hopefully) learn from them. If we learned from a mistake, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it. We should embrace the learning point.

A good example of an unintentional mistake is building a product feature, launching it, and realizing that nobody is using it. We couldn’t fully forecast that nobody would be using it. Yes, we could have done all sorts of different validations before, but even then, we wouldn’t know the outcome.

Unintentional mistakes are the ones which we can’t know in advance. We can’t know whether our proposed solution at work will be effective. It may not work, and it could be a complete failure.

Therefore, we can draw a conclusion only after the failure has happened. Unintentional mistakes should be our biggest learning points, as in comparison to intentional mistakes, they usually can’t cause too much harm.

Admitting Mistakes and Apologizing

Depending on the type of mistakes we’re dealing with (intentional or unintentional), apologizing is different. When you’ve caused physical or emotional harm to someone, saying “sorry, I’ll try better next time” won’t really work.

However, saying the same sentence when you’ve made an error at work is perfectly fine. You admit that you’ve screwed up and that you’ll try to improve.

man from hangover saying he's sorry he made mistakes and fudged up

Admitting the mistake is necessary in any case, if you want to look like a strong and reliable human being. The depth of your apology should be in direct correlation with the magnitude of the mistake. The bigger the mistake, the bigger the apology.

For some reason, apologizing is even harder than admitting your mistakes, so here are a few tips on how to apologize properly:

  1. Think, then act. Think for a second where you went wrong, before you start blaming someone else. When apologizing, start with your mistake and explain that you understand you’re responsible for it (if you really do understand your responsibility).
  2. Be fast. The sooner you apologize for your mistake, the better. The longer you postpone it, the worse the situation will get.
  3. Offer a solution. This is especially relevant when the mistake was intentional. If someone was hurt, figure out a way you can make it up. With unintentional mistakes, offer or discuss the new solution with relevant people.

So remember, strong people apologize and narcissists almost never apologize.

Conclusions

Admitting our mistakes is something we should all practice more often. It’s easy to think we’re right and others are wrong, but it’s a slippery slope. By failing to admit your mistakes you’re distancing yourself from your loved ones and are probably causing problems in the work environment.

Keep in mind that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Show your weaknesses and you’ll earn way more respect than pretending to be an alpha male/female who’s always right.

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