Owning Mistakes

What's a mistake that you made? Did you own up to it? The first time I made a mistake, I thought my boss might yell at me, take away responsibilities, or even worse fire me.

As we use learning opportunities in our work with students, the tables seem to be turned when our supervisors can use the same method with us in our first years. I know that there are some of you reading this post who “may not have ever made a mistake”, or at least not able to own up to a mistake at this point.

I am the biggest critique of myself for anything done less than perfect is myself! Driving to be the student affairs professional who is nothing less than successful in building relationships among the department professionals, establishing credibility at the institution, and advising and developing student leaders has made it hard to get to the point to own mistakes and use them as a tool for learning and growth. It makes me absolutely uncomfortable to openly admit when I’m in the wrong, but I do it.

It helps that I knew going into student affairs my areas of strength and weakness. Every now and again, your weaknesses come out to haunt you when you least expect it. Call it the ghost of your student past if you will.
One Mistake I’m Willing to Publicly Share 
Working with an emerging leaders program, one of my responsibilities was to create the program for the a popular speaker series on campus – a series that would bring upwards of 10% of the student population to each event – along with figures such as the president and important alumni. Not a crowd where any mistakes should happen. Luckily, they were not present to hear the speaker in which I tell this story.

As one of my responsibilities was to create the event program for each speaker, I naturally created one awesome template for all speakers that year. What’s most important when you use a template for anything? You make sure the information is updated to reflect the purpose and date specific content of the event in which you are using it. I mistakenly left the previous speaker’s name on the top of the second page instead of REPLACING it with the speaker for this particular night.

Not the worst mistake in the world, but a mistake nonetheless. Let’s just say I became hot and began to sweat until I heard the former graduate student in my position mention that he had made a similar mistake the previous year when he was sitting in my seat.

I did what many professionals would naturally do, think about all the things I should have done to ensure that this would never happen again. I was never yelled at by my boss as I imagined I would be. I was sure to make sure this never happened again for any of the remainder speakers. I would have programs checked by three or four members in our office! That’s what we do in student affairs, we learn from our experiences.

So for the next graduate student or professional who makes a similar mistake, or one way off, no that someone somewhere has possibly and probably made the same mistake. All you can do is own it, learn from it, and grow. At least that’s what I tried to do.

Joshua Wilson

Student Affairs - the First Years

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