Learning From Your Mistakes

Written by Karen E. Mosier

Have you made a mistake at work and were worried to admit it or concerned that it might affect your relationships with colleagues or your career trajectory?  We’ve all been there.  What’s important is to recognize that mistakes can be a learning opportunity and, most often, you can recover from them. 

Consider these three ways you can turn a mistake into a stepping stone for your career:

1. Find the lesson: Step back and view your mistake as an opportunity to learn.  Find the lessons that can be learned from what transpired.  Ask yourself what went wrong and how you can do it differently next time.  This can help you avoid the same errors or even making bigger mistakes in the future.  Determine the root causes of mistakes and work on strengthening your weaknesses.  Make a plan that will keep you from making the same mistake in the future.

e.g., Bob came back on Monday to realize that he had completely forgotten about the big report that was due on Friday to his boss.  He is worried that this slip up will cost him his salary increase and his chances of getting more independent projects to work on.  After apologizing to his boss and receiving an extension, Bob decided to brush up on his project management skills through some online courses and that, going forward, he would set up pop-up deadline reminders in his calendar. He would review to dos and deadlines each day so that he wouldn’t miss any upcoming obligations.  

2. Career goals: Consider this an opportunity to revisit your career goals.  Perhaps this incident is a chance to try something new.  Update or clarify your goals to refocus your drive to succeed.

e.g., Jill was asked to give a talk to the whole department about the new holidays and sick time policy.  She managed to give the talk but her anxiety levels were high and she knew she could have performed better.  Jill decided that for her next presentation she would allow more time to prepare and practice before giving the talk.  Realizing that public speaking was going to be a large component of her position going forward, Jill decided that she would join Toastmasters to help improve her skills.  Lastly, to boost her confidence and gain new leadership skills, she decided to join the ASPA social committee.    

3. Humble attitude: When you make a mistake, it has a way of humbling you.  Humility will help you relate to other people if you are willing to admit your humanity.

e.g., Keri sent out a mass email to the department on Friday and, by oversight, put everyone in the recipient’s line.  What followed was a tirade of emails back and forth for several days that jammed up everyone’s inbox.  She was embarrassed and apologized, but she didn’t think her boss would overlook her mistake.  Going forward, for every group email, she starts by putting her name in the recipient box and then put everyone else’s names in the bcc line.  This way if anyone ‘replies all’, she is the only one that will be able to see the response.  Keri asked a couple of her coworkers about what worked well for them when sending out mass emails.  She also signed up for an “Effective Email Communications” webinar to brush up on her email etiquette.    

Mistakes don’t just happen. They are a combination of choices that lead to unwanted consequences. The good news is that you can take steps to learn from your missteps. You’ll gain valuable wisdom that can help you in the future. Mistakes are a part of the journey and an opportunity to build mental muscle and become a better person.


  1. Timothy Sykes (February 20, 2019) Entrepreneur. The Most Important Career Lessons Are the Ones You Learn From Your Mistakes: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/328303
  2. Amy Morin. (July 17, 2017) Forbes. 5 Ways to Turn Your Mistake Into A Valuable Life Lesson: https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2017/07/17/5-ways-to-turn-your-mistake-into-a-valuable-life-lesson/?sh=493ea5501c01
  3. Every Woman. Overcoming Mistakes: Turn Your Workplace Failures Into Career Success Stories: https://www.everywoman.com/my-development/learning-areas/articles/overcoming-mistakes-turn-your-workplace-failures-career
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