Learning to recover from mistakes

I remember coaching a client who had accepted a new position at her company. As she told me about the role, she was clearly excited. She wanted to make a good first impression, showing up as confident and capable. The only problem? The Impostor Syndrome was alive and kicking. Yep, she was concerned about being qualified for her new role. She was doubting her abilities and letting her inner critic speak much too loudly.  

The Impostor Syndrome is getting a lot of press these days. Sheryl Sandberg writes about it in Lean In, and cites research showing that women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it than men. Like Sheryl, I’ve felt it more than I care to admit. I definitely could relate to my client.

Outside of work, my client was a talented performer, often onstage in front of large crowds. When I asked her if she lacked confidence during her performances, she immediately answered, “Not any more, because I know I can cover any mistake I might make. The audience never knows if I sing a wrong note.”

Brilliant! As a performer, she identified her key to confidence: Recovering from mistakes so quickly and naturally that no one notices a thing.

We then talked about how to apply what she learned as a performer to her corporate job. We discussed how she’d been singing since she was a kid, and over the years, every time she sang a wrong note or lyric, she learned. She had trained herself to take responsibility for the mistake, learn from it quickly, and push it aside to continue with the piece of music. How empowering it would be to do the same thing at work!

As I drove home after the appointment with my client that day, I started thinking about my family. As a mom, I’m wired to protect my kids from making mistakes to save them from hurt, discomfort, or regrets. I ask them if they have their homework as they leave for school, I remind them to wear a raincoat when the skies are gray, and I tell them to check how much gas is in the car before pulling out of the driveway. Sure, they don’t always listen, but that doesn’t stop me. I want to intervene so they don’t make mistakes.

However, from mistakes comes learning. And, as I saw with my coaching client, knowing how to recover from mistakes can build confidence and combat the Impostor Syndrome.

Do you have other techniques to combat the Impostor Syndrome? I’d love to hear from you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Learning to recover from mistakes

  1. “From mistakes comes learning”. So true. Love this post.
    Already in practice at work but still working on letting the kids make the mistakes! I think it’s about changing the mind set of believing that by letting your kids make mistakes, you are still protecting them. Rather than an immediate protection, it’s a way of protecting them that will pay off into adulthood.

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