Thursday, December 22, 2011

When you F%@# up

I f@#$ed something up at work, which is embarassing and frustrating. I pointed it out to my boss on Friday and thought about it all weekend. This morning my boss called me into her office to talk about it. She didn't have to say much to kick it off. As soon as I realized what she wanted to talk about I got really chatty, squirrely and over-apologetic. The truth is that I wanted out.

I immediately started talking about how I admit my mistakes and I'm hard on myself, but that didn't have the desired effect of ending the pain. I was still sitting there under fluorescent lights, in that chair, talking to my boss about my mistake. She then pointed out a few other mistakes, at which point I felt cornered and completely incompetent, upset about things I had done in the past that all added up to this moment. In the back of my mind there was a ticker-tape running and it read ...ESCAPE, ESCAPE, ESCAPE...

Wanting to escape is normal, and not a big problem. Doing something or saying something in an attempt to escape is where things start to fall apart. That's where you start to squirm and dignity dribbles away like  a melting ice cream cone.

I realized this as I heard myself trying to explain my mistake, blaming it on a heavy work-load and a crashed computer that made me miss the crucial and elusive item that slipped so mischievously through the cracks. All of this was true, but the coward in me was caught with no pants on and couldn't stand the attention.

After the meeting, it sunk in for me. I was being a coward. Mistakes are teachers if we have the humility to let them teach us. I realized that the way to learn and make this a constructive moment was to touch my heart and be present with the discomfort, fear and embarassment. The path of wisdom and humility was to stand still and surrender to the feeling in my chest. I had to let the stories dissolve so I could be present for the lesson.

Mindfullness training builds a skill, which is staying in the present moment. Our minds run off and we come back. By building this ability to keep coming back, we also gain awareness. Out of that strength of mind, the clear truth in front of us makes itself known. Then we gain insight. (Note the structure of the word "in"-"sight")

Its hard to learn from mistakes because we want to escape from pain and discomfort. That embarassed feeling can send us looking for an exit. But escape can take the form of pushing things away through blame and aggression. The mind can make up all kinds of plausible stories as scapegoats. Instead, a strong mind has the wisdom to listen to the world and listen to what the boss is actually telling you, absorb it, learn from it, and carry it forth with greater skill and wisdom. I can use that new insight like a torch in a tunnel, illuminating the way of discipline.

Even though I knew I screwed up and It was extremely uncomfortable to discuss it with my boss, I'm glad she made me sit in a room with her and my inner coward. This horribly uncomfortable experience reminded me to have the humility and courage to be present, thereby letting my mistakes be my teachers.

If you have had a similar experience you're willing to share, please drop a comment below!

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