If You’ve Made a Huge Mistake at Work, You Can Recover With This 1 Simple Approach

A big mistake at work doesn’t have to be your undoing–unless you allow it to be.

Have you made a mistake at your job so bad that you think you’ll get fired? If not fired, maybe you feet you did something to guarantee you’ll never get a promotion.

Everyone makes mistakes. And we all should do our best to take ownership for our mistake and correct it. What we do after that is what makes the difference in derailing our career or not.

Here’s what you need to do: Let go of it.

When I was a management consultant earlier in my career, I made a big mistake. It was very public, and the impact was significant–there were millions of dollars between what I had advised and what the ‘right’ answer was.

I was designing the operations for a company that was integrating nine acquisitions. I planned out all of their future offices and staffing needs, down to the individual people who would be needed.

My main contact at my client called me to say something seemed really off with my projections, and he asked if I was accounting for the “other data.” I gulped, and asked, “Other data?”

I had overlooked an entire portion of the dataset he provided me. The impact: People who were about to get early retirement offers would be actually be needed. Offices that were marked for closure suddenly needed to stay open. The organization needed to be about ten percent bigger than what I’d told everyone.

I felt horrible.

I was embarrassed, nervous, ashamed and sick to my stomach. And those feelings were not just present on the day I found out what I had done wrong. I felt that way for a month–four times longer than the time it took to fix the mistake, explain to others in the firm what happened, and take responsibility for it to the client.

After about a week, the world moved on. But I did not. I punished myself much longer than anyone else did, and not in a minor way.

It impacted my work on my new project, it impacted my interactions at work and in my personal life, and it impacted my mental and physical health. I doubted myself all the time. I was about to get promoted, so while I was certain that was out the window, I was also pretty sure I would actually get fired.

My annual performance review came at the tail end of this incident, and there was literally no mention of that mistake at all. Not a word was written, not a score was impacted.

What did come up, however, was my attitude and interactions in the past month–the time just after the incident leading up to my review. The actual mistake was not an issue, but the way I let it spill into every day after that and impact how I did everything was where people took issue with my performance.

Rightfully so. And that’s what was standing in the way of my ability to get promoted.

While we cannot avoid ever making a mistake, we can certainly be responsible when we make them and do what we can to correct them.

The biggest thing we must do is remember that we are human, we will make mistakes (yes, even big ones), and that’s okay. We can still be good, valuable people, employees, leaders, friends, spouses, and parents.

It’s about having self-compassion–something many of us lack these days. We get so caught up in negativity and the drive for instant satisfaction, instead.

Allow that positive feeling about yourself to take hold instead of the ones of doubt, failure and fear. It’ll help you recover from any mistake quickly and completely so you can get back on the path of success.

This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my column on September 6th, 2017.

Originally published at

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