So you made a mistake…who cares?

Story time: the mistake I made at work that changed my view on mistakes

I was working as a nuclear medicine technologist, a few months outside of school, living my best life. I was scared most of the time – of making mistakes. So it should come as no surprise that I was completely paralyzed when I made this one mistake.

At the risk of being too technical, I was conducting a thyroid scan for a patient – looking for nodules or signs of physiological damage. To do this, we give patients a pill that is radioactive on one day and then measure the radioactivity that the thyroid absorbed from the pill and take images on the next day. 

Before giving the patient the pill, you must measure the dosage of the pill to be able to have a “standard” to make a comparison against when the patient comes back to have their thyroid radioactivity measured. This is REALLY important. They stressed this throughout my schooling, among many other things like taking care to not inject air in a patient’s IV.

Well friend, one day ya girl gave the patient the pill without measuring it first. *face palm.* When I realized what I’d done, fear ran through my entire body and soul. My mind immediately went to getting fired and the state of New York revoking my license. 

I was humiliated because I had to tell my coworkers and my boss. I was mortified because I had to tell the patient that they had to come back after the radioactivity had decayed (lots of half-lives, ugh) and start over. I was mad at myself because I’d made such a mistake. Yes, I was a new technologist, but I don’t usually make mistakes (lol).

So, the patient was rescheduled and we all went back to our regularly scheduled programming. But in the background, I was still beating myself up. I became diligent AF and worked to make sure I would never make such a mistake again. 

Then one day, I was talking to my boss. We were just chatting about something random, but because I was still beating myself up over this mistake, in the self-depreciating millennial spirit, I brought it up. I said, “Yeah, I’m still so mad at myself for doing that.” At first, she looked confused like she didn’t remember what I was talking about.

Then, she goes “Haha, oh, Melina, you’re such a doll! We’ve all been there and made that same mistake before.” I said, “Really?!” She goes, “Yes, we’ve all done this at least once. And as you move further along in your career, you’ll make other mistakes. As long as the patient didn’t get hurt, you didn’t get hurt, and it can be fixed, that’s all that matters.” 

Mic. Drop. That conversation has stuck with me ever since. When I make a mistake these days, I often remind myself that I’m not a surgeon and that as long as no one was hurt, all is well. It makes me feel a hell of a lot better.

One of the biggest things that sticks out to me, though, is that when I brought up this “earth-shattering” mistake to my boss some weeks later, it was not top of mind for her. She had to think back and remember this. This tells me that the fear I had of the world ending and people hating me because of my mistake was not valid. And that people aren’t as focused on you and your mistakes as you think they are.

So you made a mistake…

Have you ever made a mistake and beat yourself up for it? Only to find out that it wasn’t as big a deal that you made it out to be? Or that after all was said and done, no one even noticed or remembered? That last one hurts the most, doesn’t it?

Many of us are afraid to make mistakes because we’re scared of the possible fall-out. So we avoid them like the plague. We’re diligent and careful and meticulous. We expend copious amounts of time and energy dedicated to being perfect and doing everything with the utmost competency. So much so that when we fall short (because we’re human, remember?), we can hardly handle it.

But what if mistakes weren’t something we should fear and run from? What if they just were what they are? Mistakes.

Yes, making simple mistakes can be costly and annoying and inconvenient. They can feel detrimental and like you’ve ruined someone’s day. But, ask yourself: is this really true? Oftentimes, mistakes are only detrimental if you cannot resolve them and if you don’t learn from them.

The Edge, NYC. 2021.

I remember attempting to drive the wrong way down a one-way street when I first moved to Queens once. As soon as the light turned green and because I was in a rush, I went full speed ahead – the wrong way. Of course, anyone would make this mistake because a two-way street suddenly became a one-way street, but I digress. There was a woman at the intersection who was waving her hands at me, shaking her head, and mouthing inaudible words – probably cursing me out. 

She was judging me hard and at first I was like “what’s her problem?!?!” I soon realized what I was doing and waved at her, enunciating the word “SORRY” as I went to turn around. I remember being embarrassed and went into a self-depreciating spiral of thoughts. How could I have not seen the literal signs in front of me that said “wrong way” and “do not enter”?! How could I be so careless?

I wasn’t careless, though. I was in a new part of town and I was more focused on getting home on time. I was doing the best I could with what I had at the time. Of course, when I was in the area again, I was careful not to drive down that one-way street. I learned. And to me, that’s what made making that mistake worth it. Knowing what not to do in the future. Because it could’ve been worse. I could’ve gotten into an accident instead of gotten some random lady’s judgement. 

The only thing I would change about that experience is the fact that I became embarrassed when someone noticed my mistake. It’s not like I plowed down a one-way street despite knowing I was going the wrong way (that’s called being an asshole, by the way). I didn’t need to be ashamed of not knowing something I didn’t know before. And neither do you. 

Mistakes aren’t always as bad as they’re cracked up to be

That feeling of being paralyzed with fear when you realize you’ve made a mistake is really sobering. It’s hard to shake and the shame associated with it can last a long time. But most of the mistakes we make aren’t life or death. They are simple mistakes that we just don’t see coming.

When people say that mistakes can be prevented, I think that’s a load of shit. Given the amount of fear and shame usually associated with making mistakes, if that were the case, all mistakes would be prevented and we’d all be living mistake-less lives. 

It’s easy to judge ourselves and judge others when a mishap happens, but if we can all remember that everyone has different levels of awareness and knowledge, the world would be a kinder place. Instead of being all judge-y, what we should probably do instead is look at the costs versus the benefits. 

The truth is that mistakes can be costly. But they can also be beneficial. Have you ever missed something or done something wrong and caught a different issue before it became a complete disaster? You were probably like “Oh shit! But thank God.” I’ve done this countless times at work and in life. Maybe the mistake was really a blessing in disguise. 

Or maybe the mistake is just information; a data point that you can add to the database in your mind. Telling you what NOT to do so that you can get closer to what TO do. Helping you navigate this world. Not too shabby, huh? 

I saw a quote recently that said “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” This resonated because oftentimes, I’ll want to do something but I’ll either hold back or not do it at all out of fear of doing some aspect of the thing wrong. But if I do make a mistake, that’s life’s way of further revealing the right thing to do. Maybe that sounds like some annoying mystery game, but I don’t make the rules!

The next time you or someone you know makes a mistake (because there will be a next time), remember to check in with yourself. Before you get judgemental, ask yourself:

  1. Did anyone get hurt?
  2. Is it fixable?

If no one got hurt and the mistake is fixable, was it really so bad? Can you learn from it next time? Will anyone even remember it a few weeks from now? If any of this resonates, let me know what you think in the comments. And remember: making mistakes simply helps you learn to navigate similar (and possibly more high-stakes) situations in the future. What a blessing! 

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