Making mistakes is a natural part of life, so why do women work so hard to prevent them from happening in the first place?
You double or triple check every email, report, data set, or article before submitting it, because you would be mortified if your document contained typos or incorrect information.
You avoid taking a leap (or even a single step) outside your comfort zone, because you might fall, get hurt, or create some other disaster.
You feel like you have to be 100% qualified for a job before you apply for it, because if you don’t know everything there is to know, they’ll regret hiring you.
Avoiding mistakes or failure could be a sign that you’re experiencing impostor syndrome; if you make a mistake, you believe that’s evidence that you’re not really cut out for your role, and that everyone will find out you’re really a fraud.
Impostor syndrome can lead to perfectionism, procrastination, and other behaviors that hold you back from reaching the next level in your career.
What would be possible if you shifted your perspective to believe that mistakes are actually beneficial to your job and your career?
In Agile methodology, there’s a phrase, “fail fast, fail often,” which is intended to encourage iteration of ideas and projects.
Instead of making that mean you rush into things unprepared, or try things out just to fail, you can apply that phrase to help you navigate impostor syndrome.
What would it look like if you gave yourself permission to make mistakes? What would it look like if you gave yourself permission to try something that didn’t work?
I believe mistakes are essential for growth – and in the very least, they’re unavoidable. At some point, you will mess up or do something wrong.
The good news is, you can use that as a tool for growth.
Here’s why making mistakes is the quickest way to grow:
Making Mistakes Gives You Clarity
One of the biggest challenges I help clients with is gaining clarity in their career:
“Should I stay in my current job, or should I look for something else?”
“What type of career or job would match my skillset?”
“What should I do in this colleague/employee/people-related situation?”
“How do I figure out what I want to do with my life?”
Here’s the thing: clarity comes from taking action. You won’t always get the clarity you seek from thinking about a situation, or praying about it, or meditating on it. You have to try things on to see if they fit.
As uncomfortable as it is, making a mistake or making the “wrong” decision or choosing the “wrong” path can shed so much light on what you really want from your career or role.
Like the time I made a “mistake” and took a job for the money. Now, that’s not always a bad thing, and it was helpful in so many ways, but it was also a painful process to learn what I didn’t want from a job.
The company was totally out of alignment with my values, yet I felt like it was what I was “supposed to do” to get ahead and continue climbing the leadership ladder.
I made a lot of mistakes in that job, and I learned so much about my leadership style, how I preferred to give and receive feedback, and what I would and would not tolerate as a young, woman leader in a male-dominated field.
Looking back, it wasn’t a mistake after all. It was an opportunity to learn and grow and try something new. If it weren’t for that “mistake,” I may not have found my way to coaching.
Clarity is something you can’t wish for, and it’s something no one else can give you. Most often, you have to experience it for yourself. If you give yourself permission to make mistakes, you’ll likely get the clarity you seek much faster than if you just wondered or pondered over something.
That doesn’t mean you need to make a mistake on as grand a scale as my above example. You might give yourself permission to try a new way to kick off a meeting, or a new way to give your employees feedback, or a new way of measuring performance.
Some of the things you try will work, and some won’t. The key is what you learn from each of those smaller experiments:
What went well? What did you/others enjoy?
What didn’t go as planned?
What could you do differently next time?
How did this help you gain clarity on a situation?
How did this help you make a decision?
How did this help you grow as a leader?
The next time you make a mistake, consider these questions and think about how this mistake will help you move forward.
Making Mistakes Allows You to Get Creative
When you make a mistake or experience a perceived failure, it’s easy (and normal) to get caught up in all of the things you did wrong, or what you could have or should have done differently.
That can be helpful if you want to get to the root of what went wrong or why the mistake happened, like I mentioned in the Clarity section above.
However, if replaying the mistake causes you to feel like you (not the event) are the failure, or that there’s something wrong with you, it can lead to catastrophizing thoughts, or limiting beliefs that you’re not good enough.
I have an example of this, too (because I’m human, and I make a lot of mistakes!). Recently, I launched an offer for the fourth time. The first time I promoted it, I had a handful of people sign up to join the program. The next two times, no one signed up.
I did some debriefs after the two “failed” launches to see what I could improve, how I could refine my messaging, how I could show the value of the program itself. And when I launched it the last time, I felt so confident. I knew it would work out!
And it didn’t. I experienced yet another “failed” launch. At first, I was devastated, because I made the failure mean something about me as a business owner. I made it mean that no one wanted to work with ME, that something was wrong with ME.
That feeling of worthlessness is so difficult to cope with, and yet we experience it often as women leaders:
You send a proposal that your potential client doesn’t respond to, despite your numerous follow-up emails
You suggest an idea in a meeting and no one acknowledges it until a male colleague suggests the same idea and is praised for it
You notice your boss getting credit for your work (and you know he’s getting paid twice as much as you are)
You continue to be assigned “busy work” or “office housework,” even though you bring so much more value to the team
It’s important to give yourself time and space to process your feelings and emotions. Whatever you feel after a mistake or failure is valid. And once you catch your breath or feel like yourself again, you can use that experience to get creative.
After my third launch failure, I knew it was time to get creative. There was some kind of disconnect between my large, engaged audience, and the offer I was selling. I was determined to figure out what I could do differently.
As I dug into the data, I had a few ah-ha moments (my favorite kind)! First, I realized that women who are struggling with their career path and trying to figure out what to do next aren’t always ready to jump into starting their own business. A 12-month program can seem overwhelming, so I created a new, 3-month program aimed at helping women leaders figure out their next steps.
Then, I realized that my entire mission is focused on closing the gender pay gap and promoting more women into leadership roles. So if women are already making less money, why do we expect that they should pay for leadership coaching?
I believe the onus should be on organizations to pay for leadership development, so I created an email script to send to my clients so they can have coaching reimbursed by their employer.
This was part clarity and part creativity. Looking at the data helped me see what I was missing – and it helped me get creative and think of a new solution.
The mistakes and perceived failures you experience can do the same for you. When something doesn’t go as planned, it’s an opportunity to re-evaluate and make space for creativity. Ask yourself a few of the following questions to tap into creative solutions:
Making Mistakes Helps You Form a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset, a term coined by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, is one where you believe your talents and abilities can be honed, strengthened, and developed over time. Contrast this with a fixed mindset, where people believe their talents and abilities are static – you’re born with a certain level of talent, and that’s that.
If you have a fixed mindset, when you make a mistake, you’ll be more likely to berate yourself or think you’re not good enough. You may even give up on the task or project or job because you don’t believe you’ll ever have what it takes to succeed.
If you have a growth mindset, when you make a mistake, you’ll be more likely to give yourself the grace to learn from it. You believe that mistakes are part of the process, because you can see how mistakes (big or small) allowed you to develop certain skills and abilities over time.
When you use mistakes or failures as learning opportunities, they help you build your growth mindset. From there, you know you can improve through practice, learning from others, or asking for help.
You might hire a coach for one-on-one support in helping you navigate workplace issues. You might join a training group or class with others you can learn from. You might reach out to a mentor and ask her for advice.
A growth mindset allows you believe that skill is only one piece of the puzzle, and learning from mistakes is another piece. You’ll keep trying until you figure out a new way forward, or you’ll create something that gives you meaning and purpose.
Making mistakes is part of the growth process, and it’s okay to be imperfect as a leader. Making mistakes can lead to more clarity, allow you to get creative, and help you form a growth mindset. The key is to give yourself permission to make mistakes, instead of striving for perfection, so you can learn and grow as a leader.
Take action now: Think about the last mistake you made. What happened as a result of the mistake? How did it make you feel? Then, once you’ve processed your emotions around the mistake, shift to a learning mindset: what did you learn about yourself? What will you do differently next time? It’s important to validate and process your feelings about the mistake before moving on, and it’s just as important to tap into that growth mindset so you can move forward.
What mistake helped you get clear or creative? Let me know in the comments below!
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