Mistakes are like celebrity deaths. They often come in threes.
In what turned out to be a ridiculous failure, I competed in a spelling bee for charity recently. My teammates are good friends, their daughter and I were at Clemson together and we see them frequently during football season. We have another common friend who runs a children’s theatre in town. He asked them to field a team for the fundraising event and they invited me to be on it.
Back in fourth grade when we got to pick our own spelling words, I was reading a book on spy planes and I chose “reconnaissance” as one of mine. I failed that test several times. While driving around town on the day of the Bee, I thought about that word and how it had auto-corrected itself in my life ever since I was nine.
First word of the Spelling Bee? Reconnaissance.
Not fucking making that up. The.First.Damn.Word.
What are the odds?
As with so many things that turn out to be mistakes, this was a harbinger – a sign of things to come.
After missing that word, we got the second word right and the third word, silhouette, was what brought us down. The actual spelling is ‘silhouette’ (gotta love autocorrect) but the version we used is in the title of this blog.
Okay, so was the mistake the second misspelled word? The first? Or participating in the first place? Hard to pinpoint. Suffice it to say the night gets lumped in the “mistake” pile.
A couple of years ago, I read Whitney Johnson’s career-making book Disrupt Yourself in which she has readers do an exercise listing their professional faceplants. It’s meant to allow you to gain perspective on them, identify what you learned, and put the incidents behind you.
What it did for me was make me aware of mistakes as they are happening in a desperate, sometimes futile attempt to diffuse them.
In the Spelling Bee, when offered the chance to buy back in for $50, I advised our team to just sit down. The buy-back was not a good investment, really, even if it was for charity. The Gods had sent us reconnaissance, so we’d likely be playing against the other 10 teams and some meddlesome celestial beings.
Another time when I’m sure the Gods had it in for me: caught in conversation at an Oscars party with the one woman who loved, absolutely loved, all three Fifty Shades of Grey books.
Professional faceplants are tough. They’re usually the result of exuberance, inexperience, or arrogance.
Here’s a quick list of some of those favorites, too: sending a great workshop proposal on writing GenX characters to a fantasy fiction conference; believing a potential client’s moron marketing person’s claim that my writing sample had grammar errors (tail tucked, deal rejected); knowing a full-time professor gig at the school I’d adjuncted for was mine (I was the perfect fit) only to see the job re-advertised after I’d interviewed (what the ever-loving fuck? Not a better candidate, just not me. Awesome).
Doing the Whitney Johnson exercise had me flipping the page over to add more. I was racking them up. I think I counted two dozen or-so times I’d simply been an idiot.
And what’s awesome about that is, now I’m an entrepreneur and I’m kind of expected to be an idiot about all kinds of things. I usually just admit, “I don’t know anything about that,” and someone offers to teach me. Brilliant!
So maybe I finally found the right place for my stumbling and bumbling and doubling-down on the wrong things.
I’m not risk averse which means I make mistakes. A lot of them, as it turns out. And what’s beautiful about that is that I’m also really, really good at recovering from them. That’s a skill that no degree program in the world can teach.