Check it Once, Check it Twice, Check it a Million Times… You’re Still Going to Make a Mistake

It Takes Time

What I’m getting at with that header is a lesson in both work ethic and humility.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

— Alexander Pope

About a month ago a blue-collar guy walked past me at a family member’s house as I worked on my laptop and asked what I was doing. I replied:

Oh, just getting some work done.

Being that many people find it hard to believe that you can make money online and would sooner think anyone on a computer in a private home is just goofing around or playing games, his response naturally was:

Hmm… working hard or hardly working?

My comeback:

Well, working smart, not hard.

Not to give you the impression otherwise, it was a polite exchange, and although simple and possibly trivial, it got me thinking:

Wait, I actually do work hard.

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I didn’t go to college, and I worked many odd jobs and physical labor jobs before making my career as a web designer. I’ve worked construction, dug ditches, etc., so I do know and respect the difference between physically working your ass off all day out in the dirt and hot sun and sitting in my underwear in my air-conditioned home, pecking away at a keyboard.

But, mind-work can be just as difficult as body-work, just in different ways, and both require a good work ethic.

In physical labor, I didn’t have to think too much. The boss would set me on a task and I’d get to work, often just doing something repetitive for hours like loading up a bucket of rocks and taking it from point A to point B. You find a rhythm and it just becomes autopilot, letting your mind daydream, only taking breaks for water.

In mental labor, you otherwise make everything as easy and comfortable as possible physically: comfortable chair, maybe some music, snacks, etc. However, now it’s your mind that has to do all the heavy lifting, working out details, organizing, writing code, testing, testing, testing, and stressing over this, that, and the other. Sometimes, I’ll work on a problem for hours and need to take a break, walk around a bit, and even take naps to refresh my brain.

But, whoever you are, whatever kind of job you have, no matter how smart you are or how good of a work ethic you have, you’ll no doubt make mistakes along the way. Imagine, if rocket ships have exploded, planes fallen from the sky, buildings and bridges collapsed, all due to even the tiniest of human errors even from the greatest of minds, then how arrogant would someone have to be to think that they’re above making mistakes?

Even more disappointing, is that people often conflate making mistakes with weakness, when the true test of strength only comes into question when you see how they respond to having made a mistake. I feel that regret is a waste of energy. When I’m managing a team or training a new employee, the first thing I tell them is to not be afraid of making mistakes. That making mistakes is often the best way to learn. For one, I really do mean that, but two, when people are nervous about making mistakes, ironically enough, is when they’re more inclined to make them.

Inherently, people will fight admitting wrongdoing of any kind. I previously wrote about this topic here where I also shared the following video:

While I’ve never fired anyone for making a mistake, I have fired people based on their behavior towards making mistakes. Sometimes, they simply don’t listen, own up to the mistake, and learn from it. Instead, they simply keep making the mistake over and over and over again.

In a nutshell, to sum up everything I’ve been trying to say here, you should definitely do your very best, both in your work life and personal life, but the mistakes are inevitable no matter how much time you spend on trying to avoid them. Know that they’re going to come and that they’re not the end of the world (unless perhaps you work at a nuclear facility). And if you don’t catch your own mistakes, I’m sure some nice internet passerby will point them out for you. ;)

Don’t let those moments own you, don’t call it quits; keep moving forward, try again, keep doing your best and remember that even the brightest minds in the world are still only human and prone to error. Perfectionism is a dangerous path with an unattainable goal. If you’re doing the best you can and you care about your work, you can’t be too hard on yourself when something doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to. Onto the next thing.