As children, we learn by trial and error. We fall, get up, and try again. Sometimes the mistakes are painful. We learn not to tug the cat’s tail or grab at hot pans on the stove.
We continue to learn from our mistakes as we grow. Remember your first full-time job? I shudder to remember my earliest content marketing attempts.
As we continue in our careers, our tolerance for mistakes disappears. The stakes are higher and errors can be costlier.
So, what do we do? Too often, we decide we know ‘enough’ and put aside the learning mindset. We keep doing the things that are safe and comfortable.
And playing it safe is itself a mistake—especially when operating in a world of flux and change.
How can we keep advancing in our careers without experiencing painful or embarrassing mistakes? Through stories.
Learning from other people’s mistakes
When we read or listen to a story, we put ourselves in the protagonist’s place for a moment. When they make a mistake, we can internalize the lesson. That is powerful magic.
Technology companies love sharing “customer success” stories that model how customers use their applications. While success stories are wonderful, we may learn more from their opposites: failure stories.
When I set out to write my latest book about business emails, I knew it needed stories. The title of the book, 33 Ways Not to Screw Up Your Business Emails, prompted me to look for tales of failure.
I asked people for their embarrassing email stories, and they responded! Some were funny, others cringe-inducing. People sent many more stories than could fit in the book, but each one contributed to my sense of the pervasive problems of email. And all held lessons for others.
This got me thinking about how we share our successes much more readily than our failures. Maybe that’s a missed opportunity.
Sharing our failures is generous
When we want to help others, it’s tempting to tell them what we think they should do. It may be more effective, however, to let them know what does not work. Your goal is not to instill fear of change, but to inspire learning.
Yes, that means that you have to show up as flawed and imperfect. That’s generous, too. Because we are all flawed and imperfect.
Which stories should you share? It depends on what your readers might need. Look for uncomfortable experiences that also bring happy endings—lessons learned, situations rectified.
Show a path to the future. Don’t be afraid to model learning, with all its messiness and mistakes.
Try this: Whether it’s for your next blog post or journal entry, explore a time you made a mistake, and what you took from it. Would others find this valuable? Experiment with writing it, creating a narrative that includes the lessons learned. And if you’re comfortable, try sharing it with others. You might be surprised at the responses.