I spent 7 months in Athens, GA after I graduated from the Naval Academy.
I had a lot of fun in that 7month, too much fun.
So much fun I ended up in jail for getting really drunk and breaking some windows.
After a hospital visit to repair my hand, some alcohol counseling and some professional development I was on my way to the fleet.
I had made a career ending mistake before I ever made it to my first assignment.
None the less, my Commanding Officer felt generous enough to slap me on the wrist and send me on my way.
That wasn’t my last non-punitive letter of reprimand in my time in the Navy but it was definitely my biggest road bump during my officer career. (there is a funny follow up story to this that happened years later that I may tell you another time)
I ran into that Commanding Officer some years later a social and I just came out and asked him why he gave me a break. I wasn’t necessarily deserving of it.
After a brief pause he just said, “I didn’t want to ruin your career over one mistake.”
I was kind of taken back by his comments as the Navy has a very low tolerance for dumb stuff when it comes to officers.
We chatted, had some laughs about the tail, I thanked him and we went on our way.
I thought about that a lot for weeks after our encounter. I still think about it today.
His empathy made me a better leader.
I think about how often we all make mistakes, and how those are rarely “the end of the world”
Things are usually not as bad as we envision them being, whether it’s our mistake or someone else’s.
I’ve had a lot of sailors make some really dumb mistakes over the years. The majority were good kids who made stupid mistakes
They were just like me and I felt they also deserved a break.
The best leaders I ever worked for were the ones who used failures as learning opportunities.
Making mistakes is inevitable.
Making mistakes is not the end of the world is most cases
But most importantly, making mistakes doesn’t define who we are, failure to learn from them does.
We can’t let fear of mistakes or failure paralyze us from taking action.
If anything those mistakes are just learning opportunities that get us to the right answer faster.
If you don’t get your diet right the first time, join the club.
If you don’t hit your monthly goal this month, it’s ok.
If you say the wrong thing to your spouse or friend, it isn’t set in stone.
Learn from your mistakes, don’t dwell on them.
Correct your errors, don’t hide them.
Continue to improve yourself, rather than stay the same.
We can’t avoid mistakes, so we might as well use them for something positive.