Picture this scenario, it is 17h30 and as you check off items on your work to-do-list you realise something is amiss, your blood suddenly runs cold as you are gripped by sheer panic. Your heart drops as the realisation sets in that you have indeed missed something that may have near-catastrophic consequences for your deal, matter, case, insert whatever may be relevant to your practice area. Whether it is an incorrect filing of a notice or an oversight on a critical clause that has already been heavily negotiated, we are all familiar with that sinking feeling when you realise something is about to go horribly wrong. Typical responses might include plotting to pack up all your worldly belongings and disappearing off the face of the earth or curling yourself on to the floor in the fetal position until the situation miraculously fixes itself; both not very viable options in the real world. So the bad news is there is no saviour coming to rescue you out of the mess, however, the good news is you will get through it, somehow. 

In most professional environments there is this omnipresent fear that any mistake or failure will catapult you into the deep dark abyss that is “career-limiting move” with no prospects to ever return. Those three words, career-limiting move, are the bedrock on which many law careers have been built on. From the minute you are released from the utopia that is university/college and plunged into the perilous legal fraternity you quickly learn that mistakes are simply not welcomed in these spaces. This is further complicated by the myth around perfectionism, which is almost always heightened for women. At worst, this lethal combo can lead new entrants to becoming so crippled by fear that they come off as disengaged or on a one-way collision course to a point where they are constantly making mistakes.

What we all know for sure based on our own human experiences is that mistakes and failures are inevitable. They are part and parcel of how we learn and grow in any aspect of our lives. Because we are all different, this process will invariably look different from person to person. Here are a few tips to help you get through it. 

Acknowledgment

The key thing is to always acknowledge our mistakes, failures, and shortcomings. Once you do acknowledge the mistake it makes it much easier to do the introspective work and identify how you could have done things better or differently. Yes, it is true that mistakes on your employer’s time may often have a cost implication but once we know better it immediately places us in a position to do better. 

Be vulnerable

When you have screwed up you have to bite the bullet and speak to your manager or whoever you report to, the results may often surprise you. It is super important to be upfront with them and give them as much detail so that together you can work out how to fix the issue. It also helps to have a work buddy or confidant or better yet a mentor that you can trust and talk to about how to bounce back. Chances are they have probably experienced something similar and may even be able to share a few pearls of wisdom. Being vulnerable in the workplace is not easy but the alternative is far worse.  

Have compassion for others 

The one thing I learned from working in high-pressure environments is that everyone is going through the motions just like you… anxiety, imposter syndrome, self-doubt, wanting to be recognised… all of it. Knowing this positions you to be more patient and more thoughtful of others and whatever challenges or struggles they may be facing.

Have compassion for yourself 

If your compassion does not include yourself, then it is incomplete. I can tell you for free that beating yourself up over mistakes and failures does not move the dial one bit. In as much as it is important to take responsibility for your actions be careful not to spiral into a pit of self-blame. 

Be open to learning

No matter how far you advance in your career it is so important to have a teachable spirit. Keep yourself open to learning new things. A good friend of mine always drums into my head the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know”. If your firm or company offers training or courses that may help you improve or develop new skills, grab such opportunities with both hands. Take the initiative to identify courses or training that you think may add value not only for you but for the firm as well and propose it to management.

Failures and mistakes as we navigate the winding road that is “career development” is a conversation that definitely needs to be continued and openly discussed. Just like author Brené Brown, the Legal Werk also encourage vulnerability and courage, so if you would like to share your learnings from your experiences with failures and mistakes please share them with us in the comments below, on social media or drop us an email. We would love to hear from you.

1 reply
  1. CringingQueen
    CringingQueen says:

    Got a call today about a glaring error I made on an official document that was sent out yesterday, so crazy that I yesterday I only made a mental note to get back to read this article now it’s so real. So real, relevant and helpfull! Reminded me of another quote by Aunty Brene “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make..”

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