Yesterday, I made a stupid mistake at my cashiering job.
In a nutshell, I provided misinformation that I assumed was correct.
It wasn’t, and I made a stupid mistake that, in retrospect, I could have avoided by taking a few seconds to simply read information that was right in front of me.
Everything was fine.
One of the head cashiers immediately corrected me and the customer got the right information.
It all happened in the space of about five minutes, and everyone was forgiving, so it was all really as good as bad could get, but then I found myself ruminating.
Two hours later, I was beating myself up internally.
Three hours later, the vicious internal dialogue that I was such an idiot kept spinning around in my head.
As I was driving home, I couldn’t let it go.
It wasn’t just about the mistake and the guilt associated with that.
It was about my ego: Have you ever blushed and had that knot of humiliation in your stomach?
I felt as though I had lost my dignity and was struggling not to feel ashamed about this one mistake I’d made.
I immediately learned from it and continued being productive.
I did a lot of other productive things yesterday.
Overall, at least in my view, my shift ran very smoothly except for the fact that I should have studied the return policy more thoroughly or taken a few minutes to look it up before responding to customers.
I thought I had the right information, and I didn’t…You could say I was overly confident, or just a bit frazzled or confused!
Somehow, failing in public is worse for me than failing in private: I’ve made about a million mistakes when it comes to writing for clients, not doing enough research, or not imitating the correct tone, but somehow it’s been easier for me to receive constructive criticism and adjust my approach if I read these words remotely.
I was then terrified that I might get fired.
This could happen, but it also might not: I’m very new and I’m still learning.
Also, everyone seems to be patient and supportive, not to mention forgiving.
The truth is that no job is guaranteed: You could get fired, you could get laid off if the company is going in another direction and doesn’t need you for one reason or another.
Anything could happen really.
All of this being said, I have to say that I’m really enjoying the job and it seems like I’ll be in this position for a while.
I hope that’s the case at least.
You win some; you lose some.
If I never made any mistakes, I’d never learn.
It’s okay if I feel bad for a split second and laugh off a dumb mistake in the moment, but holding onto it for hours and beating myself up is not helpful.
I tried this process to cope with these ruminations combined with shame, and I’m starting to feel better.
After all, dwelling on one mistake is not going to be conducive to increased productivity in the future.
1. LAUGH IT OFF
Everyone on earth has made at least one mistake. It’s okay if you’re not perfect: That doesn’t make you a bad person; it just means you can learn from the hiccup and fix any issues that have arisen.
It’s okay to laugh at yourself for being imperfect, as long as you do so in a kind manner.
2. ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL EMBARRASSED
I’m willing to bet that every single human has felt humiliated at least once in their life, whether one was called out in front of their coworkers or laughed at during a well-meaning family dinner they attended with their significant other.
If you can laugh at yourself, it makes things easier, but that hint of shame or self-consciousness might still be present.
Cut yourself some slack: It’s okay to allow yourself to feel the embarrassment the same way it helps to simply accept emotions of anger, jealousy, etcetera.
The moment I stopped beating myself up internally for feeling embarrassed and experiencing more shame and embarrassment as a result, my spirits lifted.
3. DETACH FROM YOUR EGO
It became less about my mistake and simply learning from it and more about how other people might see me, and how my pride had been bruised.
I then realized that screwing up is an inevitable part of life, and I was truly doing the best I could, but I was overwhelmed and slightly sleep-deprived.
I didn’t need to focus on feeling the intense embarrassment I was experiencing from failing at one explanation publicly.
It wasn’t helping anything: I was being so mean to myself.
I decided to practice unconditional self-love: I am not what I did, and I simply needed to learn from the mistake.
4. STOP MAKING UP THINGS ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE MIGHT BE THINKING ABOUT YOU
I don’t know what anyone was thinking about me.
They could have been so overwhelmed by the droves of customers as in line as they rung up everyone’s items and conducted their other professional duties that I didn’t even cross their minds.
It doesn’t really matter though: I can’t control other people, and the incident was over.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I stared at the road in front of me.
I was exhausted.
5. THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
I’d gotten lost.
It had taken me forty minutes to arrive home when it was only a twenty-minute drive: I was completely drained from working my cashiering job after staying up until midnight posting articles on NewsBreak, Vocal Media, and Simily, and reading other peoples’ work on Medium.
I took another deep breath, willing myself not to become completely overwhelmed with anxiety, and headed home.
I arrived, I walked to my apartment, and I jumped into bed.
I read a few articles, took a bath to unwind, and was finally distracted enough to call it a day before drifting off to sleep.
Everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
They might seem huge to you.
You might have a lot of shame attached to screw ups you made in the past and the bad memories — perhaps even the loss of valuable relationships — that resulted from said screw-ups.
Fortunately, all you need to do is forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move on with your life.
Dwelling on them or getting lost in a spiral of shame isn’t going to help anyone or anything.