Dia de los Muertos: 4 Ways to Recover from Mistakes at Work

Ahhh… Dia de los Muertos!  The sugar skulls, the skeletons everywhere, and the remembrance and celebration of those that have passed, as well as the acknowledgement of the cycle of life and death. Dia de los Muertos is one of my favorite holidays.

However, there are times – both personally and professionally – that I have literally wished I was dead (if not invisible, or could turn back time).

Inevitably, there will be times when you commit an act, or fail to commit an act, that feels like the end of the world.

Just to make sure you know what I’m talking about, let me give you a few examples:  you flub up a report, document or presentation you were preparing for your boss; you fail to tell your boss an important piece of news and she is caught off-guard when her boss asks her about it; you act inappropriately at the company holiday party; you find out that your colleagues know an intensely private thing about your personal life that you did not share with anyone; you… (well, you get the picture).

I won’t tell you which ones, but some of the examples above were committed by yours truly, and I still feel red, prickly and embarrassed when I think of them…

Now, I’m certain, of course, that you would never commit any of the incredible faux pas listed above, but should you do something that you wish you could change (even just letting out a pedo at the department meeting), here are some ideas for dealing with it.

First, remember: a single mistake is rarely (if ever) career suicide. Everyone makes mistakes, no one’s perfect, and time heals wounds (and dulls co-worker memories).

Sometimes the most important thing you can do is remind yourself it’s not the end of the world. You might need to vent or express your frustration and shame to a friend or colleague.  Do whatever you need to do to release some of that pent up negative energy.

Go for a run, go to dinner with your media naranja, or just listen to your favorite song. Cry if you have to.

Next, if you made a mistake (and it’s appropriate), address the person you have harmed promptly and apologize. If your boss was left out on a limb because you forgot to warn her of an important piece of news, go directly to her (or address it when she comes to you!) and admit you were wrong.

Sometimes saying, “I’m sorry.  I realize I made a mistake and it won’t happen again,” can go a long way. Sincere contrition is much better received than trying to deny or hide it.

Third, figure out how you can in fact prevent such an occurrence from happening again. Or, if it’s the kind of thing that will likely happen from time to time in spite of all you do, figure out how to deal with it next time.

I’m a lawyer, so I’ll give a legal example. Young lawyers are often devastated when they lose a case. But, statistically speaking, in all cases that go to court, one side always loses (which is why so many people settle, but that’s a discussion for another day).

So, if this is the kind of “mistake” that will happen again and again, all you can do is learn and get better.

But assuming it’s something you can avoid in the future, make a plan to ensure you do not get caught in the same situation.

Learn from your experience, be humble, and realize that we all make mistakes from time to time.  Others will be patient with you if you address the situation in a professional manner, and hopefully you will have the chance to be understanding with another colleague when they make a mistake, too.

So, enjoy Dia de los Muertos – without wishing you were one of them!

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.

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