The three mistakes of my professional life

Picture source: OnlyOneDrop

Picture source: OnlyOneDrop

We work hard to avoid problems at work. We aim to respond to all important mails, deliver on deadlines, make clients happy, and avoid any conflict with the manager or a colleague. But no matter how hard we try, inventive problems emerge every time from quarters where we least expect and cause havoc in our lives in ways which we are least prepared for. There will never be a period in our professional (or personal) life where we haven’t made a slip or two. Sometimes its bad luck, and on other times it’s a small innocuous detail which we were lazy to ignore at the beginning. If I start taking stock of all the small and big mistakes that I’ve made across the course of my professional life, I’d end up with a number large enough to hide my embarrassed face in the sand until it gets dark outside. But every time I’ve made a mistake-small or big- I’ve grown wiser. I can unequivocally claim that I am a more mature professional than what I was, a hundred mistakes earlier.

Here are three great mistakes I committed in my professional life and what I learnt from them. (I call them great because, they give me the confidence to claim that I am a better professional now.)

Forgetting to put my out-of-office— It was just a small vacation and I remembered at the airport that I had forgotten to put my out-of-office auto reply on. I told myself that I had responded to everyone and had set all my business in order before I left. Hence, any new e-mail would be new business. New business can surely wait for a couple of days. I was wrong. Not only did I lose out on opportunities, my confidence that I had everything covered before the vacation was shaken. I did miss out a couple of important ones in all the excitement of a long-awaited break. Result was a catastrophic first day back at work followed by a frustrated FB status message, “I wish the vacation was never over.”

What I do now: I put my OoO the moment I remember it, even if it is a month before the vacation. I schedule it for the period I will be out for the vacation. I am now 100 per cent OoO compliant.

Not editing an important e-mail— It’s good to be confident about one’s writing skills. But not putting the effort to edit is just not acceptable. Almost immediately after writing something which I am proud of, I can identify several areas of improvement when I read it. The more time I spend editing, the better it gets. While there is no end to how much one can edit, sending an important e-mail out without editing is a sin. The value gets dissipated by half if there are structural issues or incoherent arguments, and by another quarter if there are grammatical errors. (c’mon don’t tell me you don’t judge people who write bad sentences).

What I do now: I quickly put myself in the shoes of the person reading my e-mails and read it top to bottom to see if it makes sense. Spotting grammar errors is a function of practice, and I keep improving every time. Now, at times I even edit informal e-mails; getting it right is better that getting it wrong, isn’t it?

Too lazy to wear many hats— This is a classic case. I consider myself a focused professional. When I am working on something, I find it very difficult to do something else in the middle of it even if it is urgent. I dread these words from any colleague, “it will only take five minutes of your time.” I keep telling myself, “this is not what I had planned for.” And though I know that what my colleague has asked for is important, I will tend to resist it. And my colleague will wonder why I am acting difficult for something so easy. Many times, we resist doing something new because it required us to think differently. It breaks our inertia. And we are all driven by inertia.

What I do now: Whenever I receive any task that threatens to break my current inertia, I ask myself one question, “is this urgent and important?” If the answer is anything but a “Yes,” I will find a great way to reason with my colleague and tell her/him when I would do it and why it’s not necessary to do it right away. I do not frown or grumble or make “that face” anymore.

Problems at work will never cease to exist, if you’ve had a perfect day at work with nothing going wrong, it is probable that you’ve not done anything important.


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