Not long ago I left my black Moleskine notebook on an airplane. I tucked it into the seat pocket right under the engraved “Use Bottom Cushion for Flotation Device”. It was almost time for a new notebook, the pages on this one were almost full with meeting notes, phone numbers, list of things to do and other critical information. I put the book there because I couldn’t quite reach my computer case to put it away. I resolved to make sure I DID NOT forget the book. It was important as to how I operate each day. When I die it could be the record of my life.
I departed the plane and as soon as I crossed the security threshold I remembered the book, still on the plane in the seat pocket. It had only been five minutes and the plane was only one hundred yards away but it was impossible to sprint back. I had no boarding pass to get back through security. After pleading with United customer service, I filed the report and was assured the book would be returned. I was so mad at myself I couldn’t see straight.
But there was a lost and found and, after all, my name and phone number were prominently displayed on the front page.
That was months ago. The prized notebook never showed up. I was so crazed to find the book that the day after I left it on the plane, I went back to the airport looking for the lost and found office. The closest thing to a lost and found was the lost luggage counter. A nice woman there informed me there was a room where such things were stored until they were claimed or sent to the rightful owner. I pleaded with a nice woman behind the desk that since I am here now, to please let me check the inventory. She relented, but informed me it was against policy. It might have been my tears that swayed her.
In the lost luggage “room” I was transformed. It was like a home for broken toys and abandoned dreams. The shelves were full of iPods, iPads, laptops, prized notebooks just like mine (but not mine), well-loved stuffed animals, jackets and other priceless items. I thought the items might come alive and develop into a Pixar movie. I gave up on finding the notebook at that point but not on being mad at myself for making such a stupid mistake.
We all get mad at ourselves for making mistakes and we all have stories to tell. I am no exception. There was the time:
- I hit the “Reply All” button and the message went to all the wrong people. It was too late, the message was out there and I had to go into recovery mode. I was so mad at myself I vowed to never use “Reply All” again.
- I made an off-hand comment that someone overheard. It was the one person I didn’t want to hear the comment. I kicked myself – I should know better.
- I drove away with a latte on top of my car where it spilled all over the roof. I had a messed up car and no coffee. I was pissed.
- Someone gave me the middle finger recently and I responded in a way that had my blood boiling – at myself.
Being the glass half-full guy, I wondered, “When we all get furious at ourselves for making mistakes, is there anything to learn from the anger?” The answer is yes; managers need to keep the self-loathing under control. What can we all learn from our mistakes and anger?
- Plan – Almost all of my anger-induced events could be traced to sloppy planning.
- Delegate – If I gave more work away I wouldn’t be so busy and sloppy with my planning.
- Think – Being thoughtful in how I approach each project and activity would help keep the blood pressure down.
- Manage Time Better – Being late or overbooked always creates problems.
I suspect that no matter how much we plan, delegate, think and manage time, there will always be those day-to-day events or mistakes we make, after all, nobody’s perfect. Maybe the more important lesson is that when we make mistakes, to recover quickly. And when we’re mad at ourselves, to make sure that we don’t take it out on others in the workplace.