Chapter 19

The source of endless oppor­tu­nities for
impro­vement:  Mistakes and errors

We all have to accept that we are imperfect. But everyone also has to ability to improve conti­nuously. People who are convinced that they do not have to improve will eventually go under. On the other hand, people who develop themselves conti­nuously will get an oppor­tunity every day to change defeats into wins through the insights and experi­ences they gain and challenges they overcome. This gives you life security.

The problem of being imperfect

When we are young we make the experience that we make a mistake we could have avoided or would have liked to avoid – but then it happened anyway. You got mad at yourself. Maybe your mother tried to console you. Maybe with a small story like this one: An elephant at the zoo didn’t see a mouse and stepped on its toes; the elephant apolo­gizes to the mouse and the mouse responds dutifully, “Don’t worry! That could have happened to me as well!”

Making mistakes and being wrong is human nature. As the proverb says, “To err is human”. We may have the knowledge, or at least an inkling of the perfect state of a matter or flawless accom­plishment of a task, but we experience again and again how rarely we are successful in coming even close to the goal of perfection. And once this is achieved, this was only a one-time thing anyway. Every­thing can go wrong again on the next attempt. We’re all familiar with the proverb of not resting on your laurels.

Sports gives us vivid examples of how humans in their struggle for perfection, strive for consummate, perfect action. We do this again and again, with zeal and ambition, a strong will and self-denial. And these are often already those athletes that are naturally gifted in their sport. Once they are in fact at the top of the ranking, some of them are still by far not yet satisfied but instead want to eliminate even the last mistake.

Even though there is perfection in what we want to achieve, we have to come to terms with our imper­fection every day. Our self-confi­dence needs to be able to handle the fact that we err and make mistakes. It’s not just a matter of accepting “But I’m only human!”, however, but more along the lines of “That won’t happen to me again!” Learning from mistakes and errors is the only useful reaction to the humbling experience of being imperfect.

Strengths and weaknesses

What character traits do you value and which ones bother you in other people? Go through the following list and write down on the left next to each trait the percentage a partner should have so that you would be able to live together with him or her permanently

on time

Go through the list once again and write down on the right of the respective trait the percentage you think you actually have this trait – and not just wishful thinking. Be 100% honest!

When a young person applies for an appren­ti­ceship after graduating from school, we assume that they have basic skills conveyed by the school. Young people who want to get a university degree must have received their high school diploma. When you are looking for a job after you have completed vocational training, employers assume that you have certain profes­sional quali­fi­ca­tions. What else do you also think could be of importance for an applicant to land a job and keep it after the probation period? Mark the following state­ments on the left if you are convinced that the statement applies to you – if not, mark it on the right.

I am very aware of reality and
am not guided by my mood.

When something is clearly explained to me, I have no problem
to perform the task set. I prefer organizing my work myself.

Learning is fun for me.

When I focus on something,
it’s hard to distract me.

I keep my profes­sional knowledge up to date.
However, my employer should pay for trade journals,
seminars, and confe­rences. After all,
my employer is also benefiting from my work.

Success has to be celebrated!

You have to accept people the way they are.

A job Interview

This is not how the questions are asked in a job interview. But the inter­viewers repre­senting the company try to find out what kind of person they have in front of them and what views and traits the candidate has. They ask themselves the following question: Does this applicant fit into our company?

Conduct a self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses based on what you marked for the traits and state­ments. To do so, take a piece of paper and mark the left half with a minus sign and the right half with a plus sign. Write down the corre­sponding traits: the positive traits with an estimated percentage on the right that you attribute to yourself but only when the percentage is above 50 percent; write down the negative statement for the trait on the left, the minimum threshold is also 50 percent here.

Add words to your self-assessment if you can think of any additional traits. Proceed the same way with the state­ments. If necessary, refor­mulate the state­ments so they fit you better. Add additional sentences to your self-assessment. Clearly indicate your strengths and weaknesses. Discuss this self-assessment with the people you know well and trust.

Then formulate sentences on the points of your self-assessment that you want to improve. Example: I am easily distracted from my work. So I will buy a book with concen­tration exercises and then practice. Put the state­ments of your self-impro­vement plans in order: What do you want to start with? What do you want to continue with?

Acknow­ledge the damage sustained from your education
and upbringing and start repairing the damage 

People who have not learned how to deal with their mistakes run the risk of others noticing or sensing this and taking advantage of it. Distrustful colle­agues notice when people are afraid of making mistakes or cannot admit to them, and no less apologize for them. These colle­agues will lure these people into a trap and blame them for mistakes; and they will never be able to make them happy – unless they subor­dinate themselves to them. Being afraid of making mistakes makes you open to being blackmailed.

Here is another issue: Some people who have had an “anti-autho­ri­tarian” upbringing come to the conclusion that mistakes just keep happening and thus just have to be accepted. Their motto: forget about it and keep on going. Things do work out once in a while. No ambition. No will to perform. No bite. This flawed upbringing has prevented people from overcoming the feeling of being imperfect while also wanting to be perfect. However, high error rates do not allow for an accep­table work performance.

Some mothers who torment their children at the playground with “How many times do I have to tell you?”, “Can’t you be careful?”, “Oh, you’re so stupid.”, “Do you always have to do nonsense?”, “I’ve explained that to you 100 times!” put them at risk of not being able to handle imperfection

Raising your children the opposite way is just as damaging for children – such as when you give them no guidance on how to behave, when they more or less do not get to experience the process of getting intro­duced to life, when nobody inter­prets their experience with reality for them and in so doing, impart survival skills. Humans in a way are always a bit like a premature birth, who can only experience security and thrive through a close connection to a parti­cular person – and not by being left to fend for themselves.

Since no one grows up without any mistakes in their upbringing, working with your own failures is one of the areas that everyone has to focus on intensively.

  • How do I deal with my failures??

·         Do I trust myself to do something?

  • Do I get through a situation when it comes down to it?
  • How do I correct mistakes that I make?
  • Am I able to admit to mistakes openly?
  • With whom do I talk about my mistakes?

Everyone not only makes mistakes, but everyone also has flaws. Do you know your flaws? How often have you sworn to do better? Don’t get discou­raged! Work on your self-impro­vement with patience and persis­tence! Your partners and friends can help you by encou­raging you, acting as a role model, showing under­standing, and by taking a clear stance. However, a partner who continues the role of the unreflective mother from the playground cited above will hardly allow for any oppor­tu­nities of improving. The phrases are devas­tating here as well: “Stop doing that!”, “That would be the first time you manage something!”, “Nobody will believe you!”, “Don’t make a fool of yourself!” Errors and mistakes come about in a variety of ways: misjudging situa­tions, insuf­fi­cient knowledge, a lack of experience, inappli­cable infor­mation, incorrect prognoses, wishful thinking. This always has to do with the fact that we do not know every­thing. And even when we have the required knowledge and abilities for taking action, we feel like a failure. These are the moments in which you could just kick yourself.

Learn how to handle your flaws without any emotions.

There are reasons for errors that are our own fault and those that are brought into play by others. It is part of any situa­tional analysis to find out the causes and origin of the flaws and errors and to estimate their conse­quences reali­sti­cally. When handling these flaws and errors, it’s important to approach them as objec­tively, distanced, and with as few emotions as possible. Those who are unable to get to the bottom of the causes of faults and errors because they always see themselves only as victims become entangled in accusa­tions, blame, self-defense, conflicts and quarrels.

When I see what I have done through carelessness, for example, feelings of guilt are quite appro­priate – and amends. Sackcloth and ashes have their purpose as a gesture of repen­tance, especially if amends are not possible. Nevert­heless, do not wallow in it.

Dealing with one’s own missteps has a strong influence on self-esteem. No one likes to see themselves as a loser. However, the parenting methods of some parents can lead to exactly that if they fail to balance praise and blame. Smart parents give their children space to explore their environment, to try things out; they give hints and support, show how things are done, and praise their children when they have mastered a situation well. In this way, toddlers can find out: doing right is great — doing wrong means trying again.

After the time spent growing up with their parents, it really depends on who young people spend time with and which influences of others they are subjected to and also subject themselves to. This has an impact on whether you are able to develop a process of working through your imper­fection. The goal is learning how to handle mistakes and failures and to achieve the ability to accept human insuf­fi­ci­encies without abandoning our quest to eliminate them.

This striving for impro­vement requires a level of confi­dence that is able to handle the risk of failure due to your own errors without jeopar­dizing your self-esteem. This is the only way to also accept responsibility.

It is precisely the assumption of respon­si­bility, which usually involves other people, for example other family members, colle­agues, friends, in the conse­quences of one’s actions, that makes it important to act with as few errors as possible. Management errors can cause companies to go bankrupt, which in turn causes many families to suffer. Employees are respon­sible for machinery worth millions that can be destroyed by a single moment of inattentiveness.

If companies can only survive based on top perfor­mance, but can only do so with quality-oriented employees, they will primarily hire employees who strive to make zero errors. As a result, people who are not able to live up to this expec­tation will have very few oppor­tu­nities on the job market. People who evolve by self-management into quality-assuring top performers will not have to worry about their future.

Looking at environ­mental risks, human errors, such as a captain’s problem with alcohol may result in disaster. All of our efforts in risky areas of doing business must therefore go towards minimizing the risks. Insurance policies can only make up for financial damage, but they can only fix destruction to a limited degree. No one can bring back a life once it has been lost.

There are activities where absolute flawlessness is required

Signi­ficant efforts are made for technical processes to avoid errors and mistakes or to detect them when they do occur. Companies can only succeed if their products are flawless. For this reason, companies have quality circles and quality assurance processes in place to accompany the production process.. This is because, as a rule, far too much damage will have occurred if a product is only checked for faults before delivery.

Quality is produced when a low suscep­ti­bility to errors is already ensured during product planning, the delivered products are produced using a quality assurance process, and your own production processes are organized in such a way that the proba­bility of errors is low. If errors do creep in anyway, they need to be detected and corrected as early as possible. This is the only way to create error-free products like venti­lators, or planes that are safe for traveling.

The quality control measures also include training programs. After all, without the parti­ci­pation of employees, any effort in terms of quality is destined to fail. This is not just about technical expertise, but also about employee motivation and behavior. It is one of the reasons why perso­nality traits and a good work ethic are valued for job appli­cants in addition to their profes­sional qualifications.

This is because there can be fatal conse­quences if the applicant’s personal weaknesses are not recognized in the selection process. And it has become risky to believe that a person’s profes­sional quali­fi­ca­tions are suffi­cient for filling a job position. What use is a perfectly equipped operating room or a flawlessly produced airplane when the team that has to work with it has no social skills in addition to the required profes­sional competence?

Check whether you meet these requirements.

Develop your personal conti­nuous impro­vement process!

Self-impro­vement is inextri­cably linked with mindfully shaping your life. Four task areas can be differentiated:

  • Use your time!
  • Organize your environment!
  • Structure your actions!
  • Use your money in an entre­pre­neurial way!

Questions about making better use of my work time:

  • Write down for each period: How much time did I use for what?
  • Planning for a period of time: How much time do I need to allocate for what?
  • Do some inves­ti­gation: Who is stealing my time? What do I do to avoid that?
  • How much time do I waste due to what outside influences?

Organize your environment!

“A tidy house, a tidy mind”, so the saying goes. Keeping things in order can help you to make many things easier. People who keep their things in order do not need to look for anything. When every­thing has its place, you notice immediately when something is missing. In situa­tions where multiple persons live together or work together, keeping things in order improves effec­ti­veness and saves time. And it helps to avoid misun­derstan­dings and conflicts.

Shaping your living environment requires you to perceive who and what surrounds you. But you should ask yourself: Why is it the way it is? In addition: How do the persons and things correlate? Our sense of obser­vation and memory must be trained constantly. And this is the only way to improve it. You can use times when you are waiting for something for this purpose: Who are the other people waiting with you? What do they look like? Which conclu­sions can be drawn from the way they dress? How can you describe the waiting room? What objects are in the room? There are thousands of questions you can use to make yourself more aware of your surroun­dings. And then: How would you design the room if you had to furnish it? Which people would you like to talk to?

You can design your living environment yourself. Do it! Make your living room more beautiful, more appealing, and more cheerful. You should have your own personal workspace at home. It has to be fun to work from there. Chapter 12 of this book!

Structure your actions!

It is in our nature to act sponta­neously and directly, even when we are clueless. Let’s go and see what happens. However, we take a great risk when we keep up this childish and youthful behavior as adults. As adults, we are fully respon­sible for our actions. We have to deal with the conse­quences of mistakes and errors. Others may be affected, as well.

Every action consists of individual activities that are lined up in a certain order. Some things are prescribed to us, for example, as individual movements so that we do not make any mistakes. This may be instruc­tions for operating devices at work or for assembling IKEA furniture. People who have learned to not only follow instruc­tions by others, but to also develop processes themselves where none are provided, take advantage of this freedom, and develop an incre­asing level of security in their actions. You know how to approach a task.

Whether you renovate your apartment, cook, organize a trip on your own, prepare a party, write a text, prepare a presen­tation – for every­thing that you take on, you will arrive at your goal relatively quickly and without too many and all too great break­downs if you approach it syste­ma­ti­cally and in a detailed manner.

Take advantage of tips and sugges­tions and the experi­ences and insights of others to do so. Develop your own systems, accor­dingly. Work relent­lessly to improve the way you take action. You do not have to learn only from your own mistakes and errors. You do not have to try out every­thing yourself. You can learn from mistakes and errors of others quickly and inexpen­sively. Years of learning and “wandering” are a useful phase of life on the path of life of young adults.

Do not waste your money!

People say that money alone will not make you happy. But handling money correctly can contribute signi­fi­cantly to leading a happy life. What amount of money invested is useful and which amount is harmful? Some people make some bitter experi­ences here first. Avoid these experi­ences. Learn from others. Read the biogra­phies of successful entre­pre­neurs and how they dealt with money.

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