One Mistake, Two Mistakes, Three Mistakes, Four…

Minimizing Mistakes

One Sunday afternoon, after enjoying time at home, I packed for a two-day workshop in Ottawa Illinois.  Although Ottawa is about a two-hour drive, both workshops start early each day and driving back and forth was not effective to be available to the participants.  I usually allow time while setting up for each day and finalizing the day for any questions or quiet time with unexpected one-on-one discussions.

I normally allow a 30-minute additional travel time in case of weather, construction or needs to stop, causing a later arrival.  Today, I didn’t do that.   I left the office just after 5 p.m.  I arrived at my hotel just a little after 7 p.m. which proved all went as planned.

As I pulled into the hotel parking lot, the weather broke loose into a windy and heavy rain storm.

This “storm” was truly an outside weather storm and I had this storm explode in my mind also.  My laptop, cords, and peripherals were in my office in Clinton Illinois.  I am in Ottawa Illinois.

As the lightning, rain, and winds rocked my SUV, the noise in my head was deafening.  I had to take a breath and determine my options.  My first thought was to drive immediately out of the hotel parking lot, fight the rain both ways and pick up my laptop.  If everything went well, I could be back by 11 p.m.  Not much time to rest my mind and body before the next two days of facilitating which requires utmost listening, consideration, collaboration and candid discussion.  I really didn’t relish the thought of driving another four hours tonight.

I could call my husband, meet him half way, return to Ottawa by 10 p.m.  That’s a little bit better.  What if we missed each other in this torrential rain storm?  Then, we’d both be in a mess.  That wouldn’t work very well either.  I could call home and ask Bob to pack everything I needed for my laptop.  This would require me to be extremely patient because he is a paper and pencil kind of guy aka known as a technological cave man!  If I say “USB”, he thinks it some form of unidentified technical thingy.  If I say “cable”, he thinks it has something to do with television.  You get the picture.

I could ask him to drive all the way to Ottawa, while I rest and relax.  He could spend the night.  As I rise early for a day with clients, he could return to work Monday morning with minimal distress.  That way, neither of us was driving four hours in one day.  Better.  This is getting better.  OK I checked into the hotel hoping that Bob (my husband) would see the practicality of my hoteloptions. After carrying the luggage into the room and before unpacking, I called Bob.

Bob is quite flexible with me and knows the hours I work to meet the work needs, so he is usually acceptable to requests.  Unfortunately, he is also not happy with a “quick change in plans” especially when he’s made some of his own.

While I was driving to Ottawa, he did the things around the house that was on his list, took a shower and purchased a pay-per-view movie to watch with just him and the cat.  He enjoys the loud speaker system connected to the television.  In fact, when I return from an overnight, I must straighten the wall hangings because the decibel level has shaken them to be cock-eyed on the wall!

He was preparing for this very thing!  In fact, he wouldn’t have heard the phone had it not vibrated in his robe pocket to get his attention!  He paused the movie, and I explained my dilemma.  He sighed.  He knew what he was going to do but he was disappointed in having his own restful and relaxing evening interrupted and replaced.

Dutifully, he turned down the TV volume before turning off all systems.  He walked into my office.  Now, I had a laptop connected to a docking station.  There’s a certain button that must be pushed to disconnect the hook to the laptop.  I do this without thinking.  I couldn’t remember the color of the button.  Finally, he pushed a button that I sternly said, “I know it’s not that one!”.  It was that one.  That took about 20 minutes.  It’s near 7:30 p.m.

follow these easy stepsHe followed my instructions of grabbing items and respectfully packed what I requested.  He then had to pack his clothes, his work gear before even getting in his +20-year old Jeep Wrangler.

Bob is a methodical, systematic man and I have rocked his world by asking him to change his plans.  At the same time, he would not enjoy the movie knowing I was returning to Clinton and going back to Ottawa.  The storm is still rocking and rolling in Ottawa and has entered DeWitt County; so, he will have the storm the entire drive.  In the twenty years, he has owned his Jeep, he has never used the windshield wipers on high until this night.

Meanwhile, I am in the hotel.  I’ve unpacked my clothing and personal items.  Reviewed for the next day one more time.  Then in my pajamas, I laid around watching television waiting for Bob to arrive.

jeep wranglerBob started to back out of the driveway when he realized he forgot to put the laptop in the Jeep!  He pulled back into the garage, ran and grabbed the laptop bag with its valuable cargo!

It’s now near 8 p.m.  I’ve given detailed instructions to the hotel.  He has the hotel phone number.  I even tell him what room number I am in; room 108.

As he leaves Clinton Illinois, he has a feeling that this is not going to be an easy, two-hour drive that his lovely wife mentioned to him.  He can’t hear anything inside the Jeep Wrangler due to the pounding of the rain. He currently does not have a hard top on the Jeep so the doors are banging back and forth due to the storm which also blows in rain.  Good thing he has the plug in his Jeep floor pulled for just this type of weather (so it doesn’t flood inside the jeep).

He leans forward as he drives because the wind is driving the pouring rain into low visibility.  He is thankful for a semi-truck ahead so he can follow the lights because he cannot see the lines on the road.  His knuckles quickly turn white due to his tight grip on the steering wheel.  There is one good thing going for him.  The wind is at his back.

He calls at 10:30 p.m. frustrated and weary.  He doesn’t say hello or anything.  He says, “Why aren’t you opening the door?”  I say defensively, “I didn’t hear you knock!

Bob: “I have been pounding on the door of room 108 and you are not answering!”  (Put the emphasis on any of the words you want.  I think you get the picture.)

Me: “The door is open and you are not here!  Check the room number again.  You are at the wrong room!”  (Put the emphasis on any of the words you want.  I think you get the picture.)

Bob: “Shirley, I even went back to the front desk carrying all this crap!  I asked her if you had checked in.  She said no, but I had late arrival.

Me: “I’m here.  I don’t know what she is talking about!”

Bob: “I’m here and you are not!  Which hotel are you staying?  I didn’t see your car in this parking lot.”

Me: “I think I would know which hotel I’m staying!”

Bob: “You told me Hampton Inn.  I’m at Hampton Inn.”

Me: “I think I know where I am staying!”

Bob: “Go to the telephone by the bed.  What does it say? Does it say, “Hampton Inn?”

hotelMe: “This is ridiculous.  I’m walking to the telephone right now and it says!!!!!!”  Long pause…. “Holiday Inn”.  (NOTE:  The hotels are very close to one another and I have stayed at both on different occasions.)

Bob: “AHA!  I KNEW IT!”

Me: “I’ll call the Hampton Inn and cancel my reservation.  See you in a few.”

I didn’t receive any comment from Bob.  I just heard the dial tone.   Not good.

Bob shortly arrived and I was already at the door, standing with open arms.  I got the glaring stare.  I meekly told him how much I appreciated his efforts.  He actually told me to quiet down because he needed another shower and he didn’t want to talk.”  I submissively obeyed.

interstate 80On Monday morning as I watched Bob leave, I noticed he turned North East towards Chicago instead of East for 39 South to Clinton Illinois.  I left messages and finally had to go to work.  I wondered how long it would take him to realize he was headed the wrong way.

The moral of the story is when one thing goes wrong, it usually starts rolling quickly downhill creating more mistakes and problems!  All went well for me, for the next two days with clients and in fact, I didn’t need my laptop as expected.



helpful tips

How often do we experience calamities that double up creating more problems, more resources, and more frustration?  Let’s look at some solutions to help us more effectively deal with mistakes at work.

the big picture 1. First, define the mistake in facts, not in emotions.
hit the panic 2. Allow yourself to panic for no more than 15 seconds. Don’t get “stuck” in the problem.  Instead, take a breath or a quick walk, or whatever it takes to get you to step 3.
framing a thought 3. Put the mistake in perspective. There are not too many problems/mistakes that can’t be fixed with time, effort and money.  We can’t take it back, so let’s look forward.
can do 4. Be accountable for your words and actions. Stop the blame game.  ‘If only someone else had done or not done; said or not said’, are futile thoughts.  Own them and start considering solutions.  Blame serves no one except the person or persons who don’t want to be accountable to themselves or others.
rational thinking 5. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Then, consider the worst-case scenario really happening.  The odds may be high or low.  It is what it is.  You are a whole being and a survivor.   Maintain your work life, personal life, health, and happiness knowing it’s up to you to keep yourself going.  Prepare for fixing the mistake with what it takes.
excuses 6. Apologize if needed and then offer the solution. Don’t fall on the sword too hard or overdo it. Acknowledge the error and move on.  No excuses.  No defenses.
quick fix  

7. Fix as soon as reasonably possible. Move on.

messup learn repeat 8. Learn from the mistake. Learn what caused the mistake and consider solutions before doing “that” again.  Reuse what’s worked and restart with more information about how to do it right.  Failure is not making the mistake but not learning from the mistake.  Failure is staying the same.
healthy spirit mind body 9. Take better care of yourself. Many times, we are moving too fast, multitasking, not getting enough sleep, which causes some form of impaired attention, concentration and problem-solving.  Take care of your mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
commitment trust accountability  10. Earn back trust through actions. Our words are important and our actions speak louder than words.  Be consistent in making your words and actions congruent so others trust you.



This is a true story with real names and events.  If you are curious, Bob realized he mistakenly turned North instead of South about 10 minutes into his drive.  It took another 10 minutes to find a turnaround.  He planned well with plenty of time to arrive at work his normal time with minimal distress.  And yes, we are still married and do still talk with one another most of the time.

bob and shirley

If you would like more information and assistance on the topic of minimizing mistakes, please call Learning Alliances Company at 217-935-0209 or