As humans, we love to be right. On the flip side, we hate to be wrong.
“Eating crow” means humiliation by admitting a mistake after taking a strong position. I guess crow doesn’t take like chicken. I hear it’s foul.
This paints a strong picture of what it feels like to admit being wrong. If I had to dine on crow I know it would be hard to swallow.
Mistakes can make us feel defeated, weak or vulnerable. As humans, we try to protect ourselves from these feelings. Our brains tend to believe we are right, even if the facts say otherwise. In these situations a crazy thing happens. We start to believe in our mistaken position even more.
Mistakes are inevitable and necessary. Without them we can’t learn and grow. By identifying where we went wrong, we can take responsibility and do better the next time.

Measure twice

I love to do home improvement. Besides adding value to our home, it teaches me some great life lessons.
A few years ago I was replacing the trim on the first floor. I bought the wood, painted it, gathered my tools and starting taking measurements. I made the first cut and then went to see how it fit. That’s when I realized I marked the board at 6’7″, not 7’6″, Holding the board up against the wall made it clear. I made a mistake.
There was nothing I could say and no way to argue the point. Unless, somehow quantum physics went haywire and the room expanded. Yes, that must be it!
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and I had to take responsibility. I felt foolish for making such a silly mistake, but it happened. Since I can’t reattach the cut piece I had to suck it up and go buy another one. $15 dollars later, I now measure twice and cut once. This was a small price to pay for a valuable lesson.

Own up to mistakes quickly

With a lot of mistakes others see it before we do. They often stick out like a sore thumb. Remembering this fact helps me own up to mistakes sooner. There is no way those around me will forget or ignore what they recognize as a mistake. By stepping up and saying I was wrong, I can hold on to the trust and respect of those around me. Both of which are critical in my personal and professional life.
One of the jobs of a CEO is to hire a great management team. Years ago I was working to fill an important role. I interviewed a lot of candidates and finally found a great one. He came highly recommended and everyone on the team thought he was great.
I agreed and made him an offer. A few months after coming on board I closed a round of funding. Part of that process was bringing on a new investor. He believed in the story and in the team. This new executive was a key player. Without that role filled we would never deliver what we promised.
The money was in the bank for less than a month and I had to make a call to this investor. I had to tell him that I was firing my new hire.
I was fortunate in this situation to see the mistake early. But realizing it didn’t make it easier to deliver the message. People put their confidence in me and I screwed up. Sure, the executive team interviewed the candidate and gave him a thumbs up. Sure, the other investors interviewed him and said the same. None of that mattered. It was my choice, my decision and my mistake.
By admitting I was wrong, I could start working on improving the situation. First, I reflected on how it happened so I could avoid making the same mistake in the future. Second, I gave the organization time to stay on track. I was trading off short term pain, for long term gain.

Mistakes = Learning

No one is perfect. Mistakes happen. By admitting them, it shows confidence and humility. Growing up, I had a lot of practice at this. I made small mistakes, big ones and downright silly ones.
Back in college, I had a beat up red Volvo. I bought it the summer before my junior year. When the owner showed me the car, he pointed out an odd “feature.” To get heat I would have to turn a small valve near the engine.
As it got colder in Nashville I took my car out here and there. I never went very far so I didn’t bother with the valve. Christmas break rolled around and I remember it being unusually cold, right above freezing.
My buddy I were packing up to make the five hour drive back home. After loading up my stuff, I remembered that valve. I popped the hood and gave it a turn. It didn’t budge. No matter what I tried the valve was frozen. This was bad.
After driving for 10 minutes, I turned to my friend and broke the news. I said “I’m not sure, but we may not have any heat for the ride home.” That turned out to be true and then it got worse.
Not only did the heat not work, but the vents were stuck open blowing frigid air in from the outside. Within an hour, it was as cold in the car as it was outside. It got so bad ice started to form on the INSIDE of the windshield.
We stopped to warm up at gas stations every 30 minutes. That 5 hour drive turned into 8. It took me another four hours to warm up after I got home. I’ve never been so cold in my life.
This was a silly mistake. I should have checked and double-checked that valve before we set off. A few minutes of preparation could have saved hours of pain.
I’ve come to learn that there is magic in mistakes. It all starts with admission and ends with learning and growth. I know I’ll continue to make them in my career and personal life. My hope is that I am quick to admit when I’m wrong so I can get better each day.
This post is part of a series of letters to my kids. My goal is to reflect on and capture as many life lessons as possible. Here is the current list I am working from.