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Once I’d outgrown my young man’s super-sensitivity to making mistakes–sometimes costly ones–when I first started out as an employee in the late 1980s, I slowly came to a point in my working life when I realized that it must be acceptable to make mistakes with the boss’ money. As an employee. As “Yuuugh!” as that sounds when you say it out loud. And it is acceptable–it happens all the time and it’s called life. And I realized too that the very term “mistake” is too harsh even; it carries too much retribution and fear in it.
It's called life
Let’s be clear–I mean “it’s called life” in spite of trying your best. The fact that mistakes happen can be a lazy excuse for slipshod people, but I don’t think that applies to anyone reading this. I am talking to those who care, who understand professionalism and feel a keen obligation to produce great work for their clients. Awake people. Good people. Us.
If it’s an inevitable rule of business that employees are less than cost-efficient at times, then it has to be acceptable to make mistakes as a freelancer too. “Uh, duuhh…” many are thinking, I’m sure, but I’ll bet my next ICO whitepaper token allocation that many more are nodding silently, perhaps even wondering how this could be possible. Are mistakes ever something else? In my dictionary, “mistake” has synonyms in “opportunity, meaningful exchange, growth point” and even “windfall” and “benefit.”
The value of mistakes
Yes, as a freelancer outside a traditional office environment you can be stripped of that sense of belonging, the ability to trade on friendship or camaraderie to contextualize your missteps. Often. Perhaps mostly. You’re not a resident member of a team. But you’re not stripped of that, the right to be human! And you are a team member. Remote counts nowadays. The working human interface is diminishing, yes, but acceptance of remote or digitized comms is growing rapidly to offset that.
So you don’t get cake on Susan’s birthday, but even that will change I’m sure. Cryptocredit will ensure you can pop down to the local deli and chew cake while feting Susan over Skype in the future office, which is anywhere. Everywhere. And already here. The point is, that fundamental acceptance of “mistakes” as an inevitable byproduct of rote work by the human animal can’t be different for a freelancer.
The wise know it’s not an argument for acceptance of poor work. It’s like taxes and death–inescapable–and so they find the benefit in it.
Ever submitted a mistake?
Your toes will curl when you read a client’s message pointing to your mistakes. And, yes, sometimes there are more than one in a single document! Horror! I’ve even felt a sudden flush of sweat emerging on my brow as I climbed back upstairs to the office, to sit again at my laptop after a bleat from a client on WhatsApp, pointing to copy errors. I wish I could have all future errors, typos, and just plumb dumb moments forwarded right now to a fascist dictatorship to be shot at dawn. But the remote work disadvantage of having no office camaraderie to trade on has a flip side–opportunity!
It's not just a cliché: Mistakes offer opportunities
When I would listen to business coaches talk of turning mistakes into opportunities, it sounded stupid. Like a vain, false attempt to kiss butt after hashing it. But, they were right. It is an opportunity. After a mistake, it all ends or it continues somehow. Surely opportunity only exists in the “somehow”? Since we are all going to make mistakes–from cleaner to CEO–the very word “mistake” is a misnomer.
Mistakes are very definitely opportunities, especially for freelancers. Inside every freelancer is a diligence, a determination, a construct that connects their sense of self far closer to the client’s objectives than any employee. Making a mistake is an opportunity, an opportunity to far outperform any office employee’s obligations while also impressing the heck out of people.
When mistakes aren't mistakes
Your mistake can be an opportunity for a client to enact their brisk and authoritarian business approach and, you get fired. Rough. But, yeah, it can happen that the relationship sours and dies. I personally don’t mourn the exiting of that kind of energy from my life.
Far, far more usually–since the boss is likely a human just like you and put mismatched socks on her kids this morning or sliced into the rough while golfing with the Regional Head yesterday–they are far more interested in seeing you leap forward and patch expertly than anything else. Whether anyone involved knows it or not. If you ask me, the air of anticipation, the sense of opportunity, hangs heavier than any other consideration in the arena of mistakes and fixing them.
Just like money has millions of bad associations and only one good, pure and simple value–benefiting others’ lives–so too mistakes can have millions of negative bits that stick to them like fluff on a dropped cherry. But the one really good, powerful opportunity that awaits in that moment outshines all of them.
Show your mettle
There is one massive benefit that looms in any mistake, and that is the opportunity to show your mettle. Get a loyal client. Perhaps for the first time in that relationship, show someone your sense of professionalism, your heart, your loyalty, and commitment to getting things right. A moment’s mistake is probably going to be the first time that client really gets to know you. Gets to see who you really are. Do you accept and apologize and effect immediate redress? That is the best anyone on earth can do. That stuff is valuable. Priceless even. More than any degrees or impressive CVs, people want to know that you give a damn.
People do business with people they trust
When you sit down and stare a mistake in the face, skip over whatever negative scripting you’ve been given and the internal demons and get straight to setting things right. Pronto. Like a pro. There’s greater potential there for earning in the future and forever more than in any new prospect.
It’s the core of current sales: Find the problem and be the solution. Just because you’re sometimes the problem, doesn’t relieve you of putting on your game face and becoming the solution! Very often, in those moments, valuable trust, loyalty, and future commitment is built, and those things will pay off. Embrace mistakes for the value they carry for those of us who didn’t mean to make them in the first place. Enjoy it!
I am a Johannesburg-based freelance copywriter, specializing in blockchain, cryptocurrency, automotive and business analysis and reporting. An autodidact, polymath, yoga and meditation instructor, I blog prolifically on matters of social relevance & personal well being.