How do you "keep calm and carry on" after a massive screw up?
August 14, 2013 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I messed up big time at work. Like...really big time. How do I deal with the ball of stress and panic and guilt burning in my stomach?

I'm 26 and just entering my third month at a new job. It is at a large and prestigious company. I come from smaller companies. I knew the workload would be higher volume and it was going to be crazy intense, but I welcomed the challenge.

Unfortunately this is one of those jobs where you can do 99% of everything right, but if you're off 1% it ruins everything my team has worked towards over however many weeks. And while I've made a sizable amount smaller mistakes in my first few weeks here, two weeks ago I made one really big, harmful mistake. It was a tiny oversight but as a result, we lost a lot of our clients money. I took responsibility, set up a meeting with my managers and told them how I plan to prevent this from happening in the future. I developed a system of checks and balances, wrote it up on my own time, and shared it with them. They were pleased with my efforts, and I felt confident this would not happen again.

Then it happened again. I was confused because I used my system of double-checking, but the same exact mistake still slipped by me. I realized this time, it had nothing to do with double-checking - it was a failure on my part to understand the initial instructions of the project correctly from the very beginning (the instructions were actually very clear, which is why everyone is so confused that this happened - I just didn't interpret them correctly, if that makes any sense at all), so no matter how much I double, triple, or quadruple checked, I was checking against instructions that I had read the wrong way. The scariest part is I was 100% confident I had done everything right, so asking anyone for clarification didn't even occur to me.

But how it happened is all beside the point now. Two of the same mistake in a row has made our client relationship extremely shaky in a really short period of time. And while my manager appreciates me taking responsibility for my actions, it all means nothing because at the end of the day the client doesn't care who did what - our entire team looks bad. In short, I was told that this is the type of thing that we can easily lose a client over, and if we lose a client our entire team is out of a job. Because of me. I wouldn't even know how to live with myself if it came to that.

I've felt sick, nauseated, trembling, embarrassed, panicked and anxious over the last 48 hours. I am afraid that everyone on my team hates me - they work so hard on these projects and then I ruin it and am now putting their jobs and careers at risk. My manager is somewhat sympathetic, and said that we all make mistakes - but that I really just need to stop making them now because this is too much. I feel like I work so hard, I come in early and stay late and really try to go the extra mile - and my boss recognizes that - but they need me to do better. They really, really, really need me to be perfect from here on out. I will try my absolute best, as always, but I'm so nervous because I'm starting to learn that sometimes trying my best isn't good enough.

How do you deal with this pressure? How do I deal with the potential guilt of costing people their jobs? How do I even concentrate on my work now when I'm filled with so much stress and anxiety? If worst came to worst and everyone got let go, I wouldn't even know what to do anymore. I don't even know if anyone would hire me if it worst came to worst - word would get around about what happened and I'd have to find a new career (and I don't even know what else to do). I otherwise like this company, my coworkers, and this job. But now I just feel like complete, 100% utter shit - like a complete failure. How do I let it go and get back on track?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (35 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
You've done all the right things. It doesn't sound like you tried to lie your way out of it or worse blame someone else. I would think this degree of integrity says a lot about you.

Ultimately, all you can do is apologize profusely--do your best to fix or amend what can be repaired and then accept the hard lesson of humility.

You sound like a pretty good scout to me.
posted by AuntieRuth at 9:32 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a workplace process issue. While I applaud you taking responsibility for your portion of it, I have to question why your managers don't have a process in place to ensure that your work is vetted, in an incremental, step-wise fashion, before the project reaches a stage where errors become catastrophic. I mean, it's a serious WTF that a new employee is put in a position where s/he has that kind of power to do harm.

Something ain't right with how the organization is running, and that something isn't you.
posted by nacho fries at 9:32 AM on August 14, 2013 [136 favorites]


When your guts start twisting, stop what you're doing, close your eyes, take a deep breath. Ask yourself, What can I do right now to keep myself or other people from making that mistake again? Think it over for a second. Come up with anything? Do it. Can't come up with anything (particularly because it hit you while you're not at work)? That's okay, too. Take another deep breath, think it over for a couple more seconds, and if you still can't think of anything, tell yourself, I am learning from my mistakes, open your eyes and go back to what you were doing before your guts started twisting.

In the long term, as nacho fries points out, this points to a huge problem with the process. No one person should be able to make a mistake that big. Think about how the process needs to change both at your desk and elsewhere in the organization.
posted by Etrigan at 9:33 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd... make plans to leave. Because of the employer, not you.

No way in hell should a brand new employee be allowed enough power to ruin a client relationship and put a bunch of people out of a job without any oversight. If the work is really that critical, there should be checks and balances in place to make sure that anything that goes out the door is 100% correct.

Misunderstanding an instruction as a new employee is hardly notable. You can't make up for an entire department's poor organization through sheer willpower.
posted by zug at 9:35 AM on August 14, 2013 [71 favorites]


I agree with zug that they shouldn't have had you in a position to be able to cause that much damage so easily. I'm also not clear why it didn't come out after making the mistake the first time that you didn't understand the instructions correctly - it seems that a proper review of what happened would have illuminated that problem.
posted by Dansaman at 9:37 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is not your fault. At. All.

As nacho fries says, this is a process issue.

So, dust off the resume, and start looking again, because no one can be perfect, especialy if they're asking your to dig the Panama Canal with a tea spoon.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:39 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's nothing you can do to change the past; you have to live with it. You have to focus on the future. Step 1 is don't put too much pressure on yourself. Step 2 (and maybe this wasn't in your previous corrective action plan) is to make sure you have proper oversight from your management at the right points of the project.

If your check is simply you double checking, that's not adequate. We tend to look at our intent rather than our actual output when reviewing our own work; you need another set of eyes to review your output, especially if it's critical.
posted by Doohickie at 9:40 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You seem really good at taking responsibility - a rare quality. So take responsibility for your mental health, and consider it part of your contribution to the company to make sure that you are in tip-top form. Seek out counseling. Try a cognitive behavioral therapy app. See if vigorous exercise and extra sleep helps. Try meditating. Whatever you try, pursue this with the same rigor and dedication that you have tried to bring to the rest of your mistake-mitigation plan.

Knowing that other people's jobs rest on your shoulders is a very heavy responsibility. But even though your other co-workers haven't yet make the huge mistake that jeopardizes everything, any one of them could, any day. So really, that responsibility to do a good enough job to stay in business rests equally on EVERYONE'S shoulders, not just yours.

This is the type of forged-in-the-fire experience that you will be telling interviewers about in job interviews for years to come. You will say, "That experience shaped my approach to crisis, and taught me lessons I've relied on ever since" - and it will be true.
posted by Ausamor at 9:40 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't even know if anyone would hire me if it worst came to worst - word would get around about what happened and I'd have to find a new career

You'll be OK.

You are relatively young and new to your career, so it's natural that these types of mistakes feel huge and overwhelming to you. As you get more work years under your belt, you'll have a broader, more balanced view of work. Your achievements will counterbalance your errors.

I've fucked up, professionally, in spectacular ways. It didn't end my career. Yes, there are clients who won't hire me again, but frankly, they played a part in the working relationship and work product being shitty.

These experiences pointed me in new directions, forcing me to steer away from workplaces like yours, and toward companies and clients who know how to do business. When you are with a company that has its shit together, you will be supported and able to do your best work.

Listen to your gut -- those anxious knots are telling you this place is a poor fit for you.

You'll be fine.
posted by nacho fries at 9:43 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


It sounds like you are doing the best you can, aren't you? Did your parents ever give you the advice when you were little that you don't have to do things perfectly, you just have to do your best? It applies here I think.

It sounds like you are a reflective person and you think about how you can grow from your mistakes. That's very good.

Your response - feeling anxious and nervous and sick to your stomach after making a big mistake - is very normal. Most other people would be feeling the same way.

Sometimes people aren't reasonable and they will dislike you for making the mistake even though it was probably inevitable. But it sounds like many of your co-workers are supportive.

You won't be perfect from here on out even if you try. Continue doing what you are doing, reflecting soberly on your mistakes. It will be easier to do that if you're not in a big panic. You are right that it will be hard to concentrate on work if you are overcome by your anxiety. You are okay the way you are even if you make mistakes.
posted by mermily at 9:44 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


it was a failure on my part to understand the initial instructions of the project correctly from the very beginning (the instructions were actually very clear, which is why everyone is so confused that this happened - I just didn't interpret them correctly, if that makes any sense at all)

This is weird. Really weird. If you've been doing similar work before this and not made these sorts of mistakes, then no, the instructions in this case were NOT clear. And if you HAVEN'T done similar work before, then, wow, I agree with the people saying that your work ought to be being evaluated by people who, like, know what the job entails, which you can't possibly be expected to, after 3 months.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:45 AM on August 14, 2013 [6 favorites]



I'd... make plans to leave. Because of the employer, not you.

No way in hell should a brand new employee be allowed enough power to ruin a client relationship and put a bunch of people out of a job without any oversight. If the work is really that critical, there should be checks and balances in place to make sure that anything that goes out the door is 100% correct.

Misunderstanding an instruction as a new employee is hardly notable. You can't make up for an entire department's poor organization through sheer willpower.


I agree with this. Your post reminds me of things I went through a lot when I was younger - I always thought I had to be perfect, all the time, and got lectures to that point from managers often - but that's absurd, no one can be perfect all the time, and if you're junior there's no way that you can ruin a client relationship to that degree, no matter what management is telling you.

It sounds like you're catastrophizing the extent of what you did and its effect, and your management is letting you.

That's a really bad thing.

The benefit of large companies is that unless you're really, really screwing up royally, like jumping on tables and throwing things in front of clients, you just should not be able to be the sole reason anything is that screwed up. There are usually a pile of people who are also responsible. If it doesn't seem that way, it's because they are shifting the blame onto you, however nicely they're being about it.

No one is perfect, and if you're checking against your own work, there's sort of a cognitive issue at play where your brain keeps saying, "yep, all good!" where someone else would take one look at it and be like, 'wait, this is obviously wrong.' That's just...the way brains work and why we don't self proofread and planes are "cross checked" before takeoff.

I'd start looking for other work. Please don't internalize what these people are saying. At 26, you need to be in a place where people are building your career confidence, not leaving you to flounder and blaming big issues on you rather than putting appropriate checks in place.
posted by sweetkid at 9:45 AM on August 14, 2013 [17 favorites]


Yeah, sorry. At three months, even if you had identical experience at a direct competitor, you should not be rolling without training wheels on. And it sounds like they've let you down, and they're continuing to let you down by letting you take the fall for this and not recognizing that this was due to a LACK OF TRAINING AND SUPERVISION on their part.

If you want to stay with them, you say, "Okay, it looks like I need some more training and supervision so that we can make sure that this doesn't ever happen again." And then you let them DO THEIR JOB like they should have done the first time this problem appeared.
posted by jph at 9:46 AM on August 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm not saying it's definitely not true, but I would be wary of "you'll get the whole team fired" kind of talk, especially coming from a manager you don't have much of a relationship with. It may be true, but it may also be true that it's really the manager's ass on the line for not catching the mistake (which it should be, honestly) and this is their blustery reaction to getting heat from their own bosses over it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:51 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes, this is not your fault and this is a horrible situation to be in. Your workplace should not be blaming you for the failure of an entire client relationship because you, a new employee, accidentally put the decimal in the wrong place, or whatever.

I echo the advice that you might want to start making other plans so that you can end up someplace that has institutional processes that spread this burden out rather than dumping it all on your (very nice! very responsible!) shoulders. I really feel for you.

In the meantime, is the nature of your work such that you can run individual pieces by a supervisor or project manager before proceeding to the next? If they're going to put this much responsibility on you, it is perfectly OK for you to politely insist on more supervision along the way. It can be enormously psychologically reassuring to have a supervisor say "Yes, this rubber ducky gains and losses spreadsheet looks good to me." And if you can do it by email, if things were to go topsy-turvy again, you have evidence on the record that you were actively seeking supervision and go-ahead from management, which would hopefully either spread the blame out or shift it upwards, where it belongs.
posted by superfluousm at 9:52 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, hello Impostor Syndrome. You sound like someone who is secretly worried that they're all going to find out that you don't belong where you are and that you're not good enough; and that once they find out that you're a charlatan, they'll throw you out on your keester in some very public and humiliating way. This is SO common. I'd wager that the vast majority of us feel this at one time or another.

Take a deep breath. Identify your skills. It sounds like you've got a great work ethic and a great perspective. For most of us, this feeling drops off after a while, once we have revolved around the sun long enough that we realize that horrible phantom shoe isn't about to drop any moment now. But even if you eliminate this performance problem (which, again, isn't your performance problem; it's a supervisory failure), and you still can't seem to shake this feeling, then it is probably time to talk it through with a therapist and get some professional advice about how to deal with feeling like an impostor.
posted by jph at 10:01 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


An episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that can be comforting in troubling times like these is "Peak Performance", the moral of which is that you can perform flawlessly and yet still fail.

A major point to remember is that the executives at your large prestigious company undoubtedly make mistakes that cost jobs and staggering gobs of money all the time and they don't let it interrupt their lunch cocktails and afternoon rounds of golf. You get paid alot less than they do and you should not let this trouble you one iota more than it will any of them.

Besides that, maybe watch a documentary about some occupation where mistakes are a life-and-death thing, like Baghdad ER for example, and hopefully that will drive home the fact that the consequences that seem so bad to you here and now aren't really anything to write home about within the larger scope of human existence.
posted by XMLicious at 10:03 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is at a large and prestigious company.

I was told that this is the type of thing that we can easily lose a client over, and if we lose a client our entire team is out of a job.


These two things here are incongruent. Never mind what anyone else is saying here (even though they're saying completely and totally valid things) this whole thing just doesn't make sense, and makes me think your manager is a dick.

A large, prestigious company does not have entire sections of employees at risk of being fired based on one client relationship. Especially not one client relationship so tenuous as to be ruined by a mistake.

I'm really trying to wrap my head around how that could possibly be true. Like, I guess if you were maybe a marketing firm or something, and there were a whole branch of employees that just dealt with Kraft branding, and you were in charge of the final logo edits, and you misspelled "macaroni and cheese" as "tastes like feces" and then immediately sent that box off to production. Then I guess it would make sense. Maybe.
posted by phunniemee at 10:12 AM on August 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


I agree with everyone else that this is probably a systemic problem, and not necessarily about you. That's covered above.

But about this:

How do I even concentrate on my work now when I'm filled with so much stress and anxiety?

Meditation! It sounds hokey, and hopefully not woo, but when you start filling up with panic, I want you to:

1. Go sit at your desk
2. Put your headphones on and listen to some pink noise
3. Take off your shoes. Yes, do it.
4. Close your eyes.
5. Put your feet flat on the floor
6. Concentrate on how your feet feel on the floor—the feel of the carpet, the weight of your feet. You are literally grounding yourself right now
7. Breathe, breathe, breathe
posted by functionequalsform at 10:13 AM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


A large, prestigious company does not have entire sections of employees at risk of being fired based on one client relationship.

Eh, an ad/marketing firm might. I was actually warned about this in an advertising class I took in college. Yes, if you lose a huge client which is bringing in a large chunk of your total revenue, some people who were working on that account will probably be fired, because you can no longer pay them. See also Mad Men. I have sort of been assuming that the OP works in advertising, but I guess it could also be some sort of finance position.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:21 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think either severity of this error is being oversold to you or the company has ridiculously poor processes/systems and management. Re the exaggerated consequences, there's a vignette in Liar's Poker where the author, a newly minted investment banker, loses an enormous amount of money for a small client. Horrified and ashamed, he reveals all to the boss and waits to be fired. The boss basically laughs and explains that the newbies are given small accounts that don't really matter to learn the trade. The company fully expects some of these clients to be "blown up" as a result and views it as a training cost. The focus of the author's horror rightly shifts to appall at the ethics of a company that would let small investors bear these costs and consequences so cavalierly. Does that help?
posted by carmicha at 10:24 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]



A large, prestigious company does not have entire sections of employees at risk of being fired based on one client relationship.

Eh, an ad/marketing firm might. I was actually warned about this in an advertising class I took in college. Yes, if you lose a huge client which is bringing in a large chunk of your total revenue, some people who were working on that account will probably be fired, because you can no longer pay them. See also Mad Men. I have sort of been assuming that the OP works in advertising, but I guess it could also be some sort of finance position.


I work in a very large advertising firm and yes, people will lose their jobs if you lose a big client. But not over a mistake someone who's only been there a few months made, unless that person is a Sr. VP and made some Mad Men level conference room theatrics. Even then. And not over a financial something something.

You usually lose a big client because of months/years of dissatisfaction with the creative work, organizational style, too much "overhead" (considered too costly) and a smaller/cheaper/hipper/justsomeoneelse firm consistently wooing the client in the background.
posted by sweetkid at 10:35 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, second functionequalsform's meditation rec: you might want to give calm.com a try. You can do a two minute guided meditation.
posted by sweetkid at 10:37 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I had an experience with an employee who dropped the ball twice, with the same client, within six weeks. The first time it happened we chalked it up to inexperience and 'mistakes happen', we sat down, reviewed what went wrong and why, and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

Not six weeks later, given the same task, the employee dropped the ball again - virtually in the same manner as the previous event. When we met to debrief it was clear to me that while he thought he learned and understood what was going on and what he was doing he simply was careless, rushing through his work and not paying attention.

In no way do I mean to say that OP is the same way or that he was negligent, but in my experiences I have come across a lot of people who simply do not have the attention to detail that can be necessary for certain tasks. We've altered our hiring procedure as a result to better ferret out those kinds of personalities as they just do not work well in our environment.
posted by tgrundke at 10:39 AM on August 14, 2013


I agree with everyone who says that this seems to indicate a systemic problem that's not ultimately about you, so I'm not going to address that -- I just want to address the question of dealing with the physical manifestation of your anxieties in the immediate moment.

So first... just breathe. And by that I mean specifically: close your eyes, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, and then exhale slowly and deeply through your mouth. Do this a couple of times.

Next: mentally envision a place of comfort. (Yes, I am asking you to go to the cliched "happy place" in your mind! For example, the place I envision is spot in the mountains where I used to picnic with my grandparents, so that's the sort of thing I'm suggesting.) As you continue to breathe deeply -- inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth -- think about the physical sensations in that place: the sun on your face, the sound of birds singing or water rushing, the smell of leaves or grass or campfire.

Keep breathing. Take as many breaths as you need to in order to bring your heart rate down and to let your body relax. (Come back to your breath as much as you need to throughout the day and whenever that awful pit-of-the-stomach feeling ratchets up in the future.)

Now: tell yourself, in your gentlest self-talk voice, "Whatever happens, I can handle it." Open your eyes slowly. Stay in touch with your breath.

Finally: I am reaching through the computer and hugging you so hard. (That is, if you like hugs. If you don't like hugs, I am making whatever "I'm on your side, friend" gesture is most comforting to you.) I know it feels really difficult to believe right now, but one way or the other this will really be OK.
posted by scody at 10:39 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


A large, prestigious company does not have entire sections of employees at risk of being fired based on one client relationship.

This happens in my industry (a technical consulting field) and is in fact how one of my cubemates landed here; half her company was laid off following the loss of their biggest client. It's the reason smart firms diversify their client base.

OP, if you are in the writing-reports kind of technical consulting, please know that your senior reviewer should have caught these issues during the review of your work. Insist on more oversight of your work.

For helping yourself -- it sounds like you're landing in a position of learned helplessness, where you're scared to do anything because you feel like you'll just do it wrong. I agree that CBT is one place to look. Other suggestions to help combat this:

-Reward yourself for small successes. "There, that's one spreadsheet compiled, time for a cup of tea." Right now you feel like you only make mistakes, but that's not true. Start recognizing the things you do right, even if it's small things.

-If possible, talk to someone else to get an outside perspective. Not your manager -- whatever cubemate has been friendliest to you. Tell them you feel terrible and want to make sure this never happens again; what do they do to prevent this? Do they have any advice? Often the people who are in the trenches with you will have a better sense of how to manage this sort of thing.

-Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Because it will. It really, really will.

-Try to get yourself outside the office, doing anything but obsessing, even if it's for a short period of time. A ten-minute walk to get a sandwich. A run after work.
posted by pie ninja at 10:55 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nthing nacho fries: if mistakes have that much of an effect on the final outcome on the project and on client relationships, your company needs to have a QA process in place. Everyone misses something now and again, and a second person will spot errors more easily than the first person, whether they're minor typos or an unfamiliarity with the process.

I've worked in QA before, and I promise you: errors are WAY more common than you might think. So is not catching one's own errors. No one is immune. You are not worse than anyone else.

You did fabulously with creating your system of checks and sharing it with your bosses. Now's the time to go one step further: brainstorm ways that your team can check each other's work, and propose that to your bosses. Two people checking work is always better than one.

And:

I feel like I work so hard, I come in early and stay late and really try to go the extra mile - and my boss recognizes that - but they need me to do better. They really, really, really need me to be perfect from here on out.

If this "you need to be perfect" declaration came from your manager, then you are in an unhealthy work environment. Perfection is impossible, and if you're consistently working your butt off and doing extra, you are an exemplary employee and should be appreciated for this. Some workplaces can and do take advantage of perfectionists willing to prove themselves, especially in ultra-competitive industries. It's not always possible to leave for a better work environment, but if you can, you should.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:00 AM on August 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Besides meditation, one thing that can help calm you physically is magnesium. Get a good brand like Ionic Fizz or Natural Calm, which are better absorbed than generics and are gentler on your stomach. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer and soothes the nerves, and many people don't get enough in their diet.

And agreeing that your workplace is way dysfunctional. You should not be thrown under the bus like that no matter what kind of a mistake you made, unless it was something illegal. A junior employee shouldn't be placed in a position to make or break a whole client relationship. Not having a system of checks and reviews in place is another mark of a dysfunctional company, a HUGE one, as other posters have pointed out. Every company ought to have some form of QA, especially where money and clients are at stake. There is really no excuse not to have that QA.

It sounds like management is also taking blatant advantage of your responsible nature. "Some workplaces can and do take advantage of perfectionists willing to prove themselves, especially in ultra-competitive industries." What Metroid Baby says is 100% truth. BT, DT and will never put myself through that again.

Something to think about: Are you in any way "different" than the rest of your team - the only woman or visible minority or LGBT person, much older or younger, different background, etc.? Sometimes this bullying - and I will say that what your manager is doing IS a kind of bullying or emotional abuse - happens to someone who stands out in some way that is no fault of their own.

Pie Ninja's advice to talk to someone who is not your manager, who can help you put things into perspective, is terrific, and it's helped me a lot when I've made mistakes. And start looking around for a new job! Nobody deserves to be treated like that.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:04 AM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's a lot of hand-waving in this thread about how this is not your fault, ranging from poor oversight, systemic organizational dysfunction, pathological manipulation, and bullying. But I have been in business a while in organizations where a junior person is given responsibilities, even limited responsibilities, that are 100% critical and 100% that person's sole responsibility to master, expertise, and ensure perfect execution. So while the MeFi cheer-leading squad wants to tell you that this is the result of someone else's bad policies or decisions or prejudices, that really may not be the case, and may not actually be helpful advice to take to heart.

The good news is, even if this is solely your fault, and you have no one else to blame, you will be OK. You will be OK if they fire you. You will be OK if they keep you, but transfer you to another role. You will be OK if they lose this client. You will be OK at another job.

Everyone has made mistakes, and many of us (myself included) have made major, galling mistakes. Your maturity in taking responsibility for your mistake--and even the self flagellation you're doing--speak volumes about you and your integrity. Really, anyone can make a mistake, and by the same token, anyone can be trained to get the widgets to Fresno by Tuesday (i.e., before Tuesday, not by the end of the day on Tuesday, Johnson!), or how to run a complex Excel spreadsheet. You can't teach responsibility and integrity. So you've got that going for you.

Take a time out. Go for a run when you can. You'll get through this. Good luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:30 AM on August 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


> The scariest part is I was 100% confident I had done everything right, so asking anyone for clarification didn't even occur to me.

Well, you've learned one very important thing: think it possible you could be mistaken. Sure, I'm with the chorus here on the lack of oversight in your company, but that check system you came up with and your team blessed? Maybe it wasn't so good, and your team couldn't tell, either.

[For the record, I fucked up magnificently and expensively weeks into my first job. They didn't fire me ...]

I second functionequalsform's meditation suggestion, although it was written by someone who is experienced in meditation. If you've never done it before, I'd add:
8. Concentrate on how your breathing feels; the inhalation, the exhalation.
9. When your mind wanders, that's okay. Let it go.
10. Go to 7.

UCLA has some short Guided Meditations which might help.
posted by scruss at 11:31 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


So while the MeFi cheer-leading squad wants to tell you that this is the result of someone else's bad policies or decisions or prejudices, that really may not be the case, and may not actually be helpful advice to take to heart.

It's not "cheer leading squad." Some people also know through experience that "we need you to be perfect" and people losing their jobs based on the errors of a 26 year old working at a large instititution for a few months is more likely to be a case of bullying and blaming than a realistic scenario. It's a case of "when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras."

OP has established that they come in early, stay late and work hard - and I did this too when younger and was bewildered when that wasn't enough sometimes - but knowing the politics game is really important too and that's why I think the "this might be an organizational issue" answers are important and helpful, not "cheer leading."


The good news is, even if this is solely your fault, and you have no one else to blame, you will be OK. You will be OK if they fire you. You will be OK if they keep you, but transfer you to another role. You will be OK if they lose this client. You will be OK at another job.


This I agree with.
posted by sweetkid at 12:00 PM on August 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


How political is your workplace? I find it difficult to believe a new hire would have such power and responsibility from the outset. Perhaps, just perhaps this was always going to be a disaster and you were set up as a fall guy to be responsible for a situation which had been long in the making. Which might explain why they are so relaxed about it.

Yes I am cynical. Why do you ask?
posted by epo at 12:04 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like tgrundke, I too have had junior team members 'drop the ball.' The first time, it's a mistake, the second time I have also questioned whether they were a good fit.

I think what you need to be aware of is that many mistakes are more fixable than you might see, but that additional errors will change your role in the organization. Where someone delivers, I trust them and bring them in, where someone proves in a short time they can't deliver, I am more likely to assign them bottom-feeder jobs or to avoid putting myself in a position where I'm relying on them. You should be less worried about losing your job, or other people's jobs, and more concerned with that.

I can also say that for me, it's not about who works the 'hardest', logging long hours etc. It's about who works the smartest, getting results. Cliche but true. Too many juniors think that long hours are the key answer, in some cases they diminish your ability to concentrate and lead to mistakes.

I also agree with Admiral Haddock. I would not take the advice about looking at the mistakes your employer has made trusting you with this responsibility or immediately seeking to drop the job. If your job is a good opportunity in some way that you've pursued, blaming your employer for "giving you too much responsibility" or "not checking your work" is really counterproductive. You're already upset, do you really want to be angry too? I am going to assume you took this step-up opportunity for a reason, don't let people rain on your parade. Not all jobs are forever and this situation does not make this job worthless to your career path.

So here's what you should do. Accept the situation, it is what it is. Next, deal with the pressure. There is no magic to this, no set of mystery steps; learning to deal with intense pressure and not make mistakes in the face of it is something that comes by experiencing situations like you are experiencing right now and moving on. I typically reflect on the accomplishments that I have had and think about the fact that there is nothing proving I can't handle what is in front of me right now.
posted by skermunkil at 2:12 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seek to regain control of your situation by actively choosing the work you want and are prepared to do and communicating this clearly. Working long(er) hours is not the solution here, if anything it's working less and smarter. Trying super-hard is never sustainable, it blinds you to the larger objective, it's exhausting, and it results in you making mistakes of the kind you've just made.

If you want a good example of performance management, look at airline pilots at traditional airlines. Look at all the rules in place to make sure they don't work too long hours, get enough sleep, and perform at their best when lives are on the line. That's how you should be approaching your job, too. And that means having the courage to set boundaries.

In the United States, that can be especially challenging, as it has long been part of the business culture that more and harder hours and lots of visible effort are better. But keep in mind that appearances can be deceiving. It's the results that matter.
posted by rhombus at 3:06 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do I deal with the ball of stress and panic and guilt burning in my stomach?

While it's tempting to give advice relating to the situation, your question is pretty clear. You deal with the stress by looking at your personal wealth, personal health, and social capitol, and comparing it with the loss of your job. You take a deep breath, and and relax, because losing a job isn't the end of the world, and you're clearly resilient enough to cope if the worst happens.

The short term adrenaline panic immediately after realizing you've made a huge mistake, I'm not sure how to overcome that. Obviously you need to recognize when you're mentally in that state and try to sleep on it. Going into "I can fix this" mode may in fact make things worse, as your higher level reason capacity diminishes.

Next, the guilt. You have not much to be guilty about. Your described behavior is admirable. If your firm has to let people go as a result of a junior hire's mistakes, that's on the firm's organization, not you. There needs to be a stronger work review process, whether it's software or insurance adjustment or day trading. You proposed a review process, one that anyone who's ever worked in QA or managed a team for would recognize: the doer and reviewer cannot be the same person. But you presented your plan to management for feedback and review. The time for managers to point this out was there, not your exit interview.
posted by pwnguin at 10:43 PM on August 16, 2013


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