When I Do Dumb Things

I am not perfect.

I’ve known this for quite a while.

I have no delusions that I am.

This means that I am going to make mistakes, just like everyone else.

My guess is that you aren’t perfect either.  If you are, you might as well stop reading now because you clearly don’t need any help.

For the rest of us, this means that we are going to make many mistakes in the course of our personal and professional life.  That’s just part of who we are.  What differentiates us from others though is how we deal with those mistakes.  Did we learn from them?  Did we figure out what to do differently?

Personally, I have a process that I go through when I do something dumb to make sure I don’t do it again.
But to make this entertaining, let me tell you about one of my recent dumb episodes.

Yesterday, I was scheduled to update several of our senior leaders on a project I am working on.  As time drew near, I ran from the printer, across the building, up a flight of stairs, and over to the meeting room.   I sat down in the lobby to wait my turn only to be told immediately, “you’re up”.  So I jumped up quickly (my first mistake) and walked in to the room.

I immediately began passing out copies of my PowerPoint, but noticed I was feeling a little light headed (clearly I stood up too quick).  I pushed through the feeling and began my update while walking to the front of the room.

As I approached the front of the room, I realized my light-headedness was becoming worse and I was struggling to catch my breath as I stood in front of my leadership.  I continued my presentation anyway (my second mistake).

At about a minute in, I started seeing black spots.  At this point, I knew that this was not going in a good direction.  While I typically like to stand and deliver, I said, “Just a second.” and grabbed the chair in front of me, sat down, and continued my presentation.  It got better – once I had oxygen.

Could you imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t sat down?  My career trajectory may have become flatter than me laying passed out on the floor.  Stories would be told for years around the water cooler about “that guy”.  I would be a legend…and not in a good way.

When I finished and left the room – I said a quick prayer of thanks for not passing out in front of the senior group and for being able to deliver the message.

I checked in with a couple of the attendees later and they said that they could tell something was up in the beginning, but that the update was fine.

I realized, though, that what I did was dumb and I only have myself to blame.  Was I as effective as I could have been?  No.  Was I distracting in the first few minutes with whatever behavior I was exhibiting? Perhaps.  Could it have been a lot worse?  Definitely!

So what did I do?  In the minutes following the meeting, I walked through my “Gee Jason, that was dumb – don’t do that again” process.

Here’s how it works.  I ask myself three simple questions – Why, What, and How:

  • Why did it occur?
  • What should I have done differently?
  • How will I ensure that I don’t do it again?

So, let’s take my episode as an example and walk through this.

WHY did it occur?  As I thought about it, it all began because I was rushing.  I shouldn’t have been because my presentation was done well ahead of time.  But I was in a hurry, waited until the last minute to go upstairs, and then ran to my meeting.  I sat down and stood up quickly, which made me light headed.  But instead of taking a moment for my head to clear, I pushed ahead – probably because I’m stubborn.

WHAT should I have done differently?  For starters, I should have printed my materials sooner (in the case that something delayed me).  I should have arrived at my meeting with such an important group well before the meeting started.  And I should have stopped at the first sign of trouble and taken a second to catch my breath.

HOW will I ensure that I don’t do it again?  Two things.  First, I will set a reminder to print my materials at least one hour prior to the update meetings.  Second, I will set a calendar planner to arrive at the meeting 15 minutes prior the start.  This should keep the whole episode from happening again.  It is important to be specific in determining your actions for next time.

This is a really quick process to run through and you can use the formula for a multitude of situations.  But the key is being resolved to ensure that you follow the actions you outlined in the HOW – or else you are doomed to repeat yourself.

Now, there is one possible additional step in some circumstances.  If you do something dumb and insult, upset, or disappoint someone – you should ask yourself this additional question, “How do I make it right?”  And then act on that quickly – as in – before the sun sets.

Now, in hindsight, my dumb episode is kind of comical, and I hope you found some humor in it.  But it’s only funny to tell because it had a relatively positive ending.  The important thing is that I learned something from it. And that you learn from the mistakes that you make.

So, how do you learn from your mistakes?  What process do you go through when you do dumb things?

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