I’m uncertain of the metaphysical reality of karma, but something about it rings true to me. If there is indeed anything to the notion, however, I shudder at what an absolute mess I must have been in my previous life, because the particular one I’m living now seems completely devoted to teaching me by trial and error. The mistakes I have made in business, as a parent, partner and human being are legion.
But, I also consider it necessary to learn to celebrate our mistakes.
While mistakes are painful, they are masterful teachers. Since this is a business column devoted to the travel industry, I’ll narrow the scope down a bit for our purposes and place the moral up front: We can use our mistakes to become better at what we do.
It happens all the time: we screw up and it costs dearly in money, relationships or pride. Sometimes we lose a client. Many times, we feel doubly bad because the outcome of our actions are so totally predictable, and I don’t mean just as a matter of hindsight. Sometimes we fail to avoid a very obvious transgression of common sense like failing to get an insurance waiver, do our research too quickly, or fail to offer our best efforts in a client relationship.
If we had only listened to the advice of countless peers and business coaches who have told us over and over how to avoid the particular mistake we so artfully executed. But instead, we steer a course directly into the iceberg, and then listen with a measure of regret as the band plays on.
The unfortunate truth is we learn best by mistake and they make us aware of the correct way to do things far better than successfully pulling off a safer, but no more perfect execution. So in the name of redeeming our past, we can look at mistakes as a dress rehearsal for better times. It is, after all, a mis-take – the very word suggests the possibility of a “do-over.”
One of the things we can do to properly recast our mistakes is to ensure we are taking responsibility for them. This sometimes requires we fully examine a problem to make sure we are not blaming someone else or miring ourselves in a pity party. The way in which we interpret our mistakes determines the value we derive from them.
Let’s say you forget to recommend travel insurance and now a client is ill and cannot travel. A refund is no longer a possibility. One way of reacting to the situation is to label yourself a failure. Another might be to blame the client for being a cheapskate whose continual protests distracted you from doing the wonderful job you usually do. But either of these approaches will deprive you of the full benefit of the mistake. If, instead, you say, “I could have done a better job and I will implement a procedure so this never happens again,” then you have salvaged some portion of the event and improved your travel practice.
If mistakes are inevitable, and they are, then we are better off inviting them in and having conversations with them. That way, we can truly know everything they have to teach us.
Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.