How to handle errors in judgment
Over the Presidents Day weekend, a close friend of mine, Jim, was skiing with his family in Colorado. On the trip, his 5-year-old granddaughter skied into a tree and broke both of her legs.
What a disaster! Fortunately, she’s young, didn’t hit her head and will heal quickly. That’s a blessing. But Jim was at the top of the hill watching this nightmare unfold. He was responsible for taking care of his granddaughter. He made several mistakes in judgment: the day before the ski instructor indicated to Jim that his granddaughter wasn’t ready for that particular slope, he didn’t ski in front of her and he overestimated her ability. It was the perfect storm. Needless to say, Jim won’t mend from this so quickly. He told me later that he was shaken up by the whole experience. Aside from taking responsibility for the accident, he wonders if he will ever recover his confidence in his judgment.
Accidents occur every day that have can have huge consequences. Probably, the most common are automobile accidents. Frequently, these are completely out of our control. Other bad things happen, too: companies go out of business, employees get laid off, or close friends and family develop serious illnesses. These events shake us up. We often feel like victims of fate — standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But what if we were responsible? What if we made a mistake? What if we showed poor judgment? Mary was texting while driving and caused an accident. Bill had an impulsive extramarital affair that ended his marriage. John made a poor business decision that ended in bankruptcy. Fortunately, many of these bigger mistakes are rare, but they do happen.
Here are some important points to remember about handling errors:
- Take responsibility. Jim’s first response to his granddaughter’s accident was to come up with “reasons” for his choices. But later, he stared at himself in the mirror and recognized that it was his error in judgment. He accepted responsibility for his actions and the consequences. It was painful for him to do this, but he realized that he couldn’t honestly deny his blame for the mishap.
- Overconfidence can be dangerous. As the years go on, it’s possible to over value your judgment, your experience and your opinions (Men seem to be particularly vulnerable to this condition.). Success at work or in relationships can give you the false impression that bad things won’t happen to you or yours — or that your judgment is infallible. Doubt has its place in the human equation. Consider the potential unanticipated consequences of any decision.
- Underconfidence can be costly, too. Lack of confidence can result in delaying or avoiding decisions when they must be made. This can create its own set of problems.
- Accidents happen. Whether we make good or bad decisions, unanticipated events will always occur. Sometimes, we are simply the victims of fate. We only have control over our own choices.
- “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” The poet Alexander Pope got this one right. Don’t beat yourself up too much. It is just as important to forgive yourself, as it is to forgive others.
- Make amends. While Jim couldn’t turn back the clock, he did help his granddaughter’s family. He felt that it was the least he could do. He provided practical help and it made him feel better too.
- Learn from your mistakes. Teenagers develop good judgment from making bad choices. Frequently, their parents engineer consequences that teach them valuable lessons. For adults, the ups and downs of life provide us with the education we need. We can’t change anything that we did yesterday, but we can learn from our experience and do things differently today. Sadly, in adult life, trial and error is our primary instructional tool, as painful as it can sometimes be.