A few months ago, Mandi posted about a mistake she made at work, and how she was fretting over it until her very wise daughter reminded her that mistakes are a part of life. I believe J's sound advice was something along the lines of "Don't worry, Mommy, just say you're sorry." Because that's all you can do.
I'm no stranger to mistakes made at work or at home. I think of my biggest work mistake almost daily. About five years ago, in the course of producing literally tens of thousands of pages of documents in discovery, I produced one single-page privileged document. To the immense credit of the partner with whom I was working, he did not freak out. Instead, he had me draft the clawback letter. But because nothing ever goes the way the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure say they should go, the other side did not just turn over the single page like they were supposed to. Instead, we became engaged in a bunch of expensive motion practice all to get that one piece of paper back. The partner for whom I was working made me research, draft and argue all the motions and (rightfully) didn't bill my time to the client. I felt terrible about that mistake. I still do. And he knew it. As bad and as stressful as all that work trying to get that document back was, the partner saved me from the worst of it: he told client about my mistake. And I know he took some heat for it.
I absolutely hate thinking about that mistake. I hate that I made it, and I hate that it hurt the partner for whom I worked and our client. But I learned a lot from it. I learned to double-check my document productions three or four times, on different days and with fresh eyes. I learned a lot about the clawback provisions in the law. And I learned a very good way to handle mistakes made at work. The partner with whom I worked was an amazing example of the kind of lawyer I want to be: he helped me learn from my mistake without throwing me under the bus or writing me off as an attorney. I told him a million, billion times how sorry I was, and we worked together to fix it the best we could. He recognized that mistakes are a part of life, as opposed to the end of the world. And we ended up working together until I left the firm.
This week on The Juggle, there is an article about a company that rewards its employees for making mistakes at work. http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2011/08/15/should-mistakes-be-rewarded/ "The point 'is to remind employees that mistakes are usually a part of trying to be innovative,'SurePayroll president Michael Alter told Inc. Employees need to be encouraged to take risks and 'mistakes are the tuition you pay for success,' he adds." The writer of the article embraces this view, and comments that he wishes he had stressed to kids more that mistakes are simply a part of life.
Of course in my case, my mistake was just a mistake, not the cost of trying to be innovative. I never should have made it. But the point is still the same. I'm a better lawyer because of that mistake. I have better practices with respect to document production, I know a lot about that area of the law and I know how to handle difficult situations with a client. That mistake - and all of the subsequent worry and work - is tuition paid for me to be a more successful lawyer today.
I hope that my kids never make a mistake like I made, but I know that that hope is not practical. We all make mistakes. It's what we make of those mistakes that make the difference. I hope that I am able to impart upon my kids the importance of taking risks, and learning from our losses. And I hope they work for people like the company mentioned in The Juggle article, or the partner that I worked with. People who understand that mistakes happen, and value of the lessons that can be learned from them.