How To Recover From A Mistake
“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”
When I was 15, I worked at a steakhouse down the road from my parents’ house. It was the kind of place that smelled like barbecue sauce and peanut shells and daytime happy hour drinks. I was promoted to a serving position shortly after my 18th birthday (the legal age to serve alcohol in Colorado) and I spent the following months studying the menu, learning the ingredients in our signature margaritas. When my manager posted the upcoming server schedule one weekend with my name on the roster, I was ecstatic.
I didn’t anticipate making a mistake during one of my very first serving shifts. I’d worked at the restaurant for almost three years after all, and I’d memorized the servers’ routines from my perch on the hostess stand. I was confident I could do the work in my sleep. Greet table, take drinks order, take food orders, bring check—how hard could it be?
It happened during an early evening shift, while the restaurant hummed with birthday celebrations and post-work chatter. My assigned tables were “sat,” as we’d say in the restaurant world, and I floated quickly between the kitchen and the floor—refilling iced teas, bringing out the ketchup, ensuring the sirloins at my four-top were cooked as requested.
That’s when I noticed one of my tables was missing their food. Almost 15 minutes had passed and they didn’t even have their salads. I hurried to the kitchen to investigate.
Server after server swept up hot plates of food, none of which were for my table. Frustrated because I believed the kitchen had lost my ticket or was behind on orders, I logged onto the POS system. But my screen was blank. Where there should have been a Table 231, there was nothing. I had forgotten to input the order. I panicked.
Name & Claim Your Mistakes
I knew I had two options: I could deny my mistake and make up an excuse (“The system didn’t save my order,” “Another server offered to input it for me, but they forgot”), or I could own up to my error. Despite the latter being harder (and subject to consequences), I knew it was what I needed to do to fix the situation. So I quickly found my manager and told him what had happened.
When we make mistakes, we can deny our error, or we can own up. Admitting our faults is always much harder, but through bravery and honesty, we become stronger. Brené Brown talks about this often: the importance of showing up and doing hard things. Naming and claiming your mistakes is doing just that. Admitting your shortcomings, acknowledging failure—those moments are as valuable to your story as each and every success.
Give Yourself Grace, Then Offer It To Others
I could feel the heat spreading across my cheeks, the tears threatening the corners of my eyes. As I stood before my manager, waiting for his response, I feared he was about to berate me in front of everyone. He didn’t criticize me, though. Rather, he smiled. “It’s okay,” he responded. “We all make mistakes. Go talk to the table, and I’ll tell the kitchen to rush their order.”
When we make mistakes, or when others make mistakes, it’s paramount to have grace. We can gift ourselves grace in our shortcomings, and we can offer others grace when we witness their mistakes. By doing this, we free ourselves from negative thought patterns, as well as the fear that will keep us from trying again in the future. Grace for self is courage to keep trying, even if future mistakes await on the horizon. And when we have grace for others in their shortcomings, we help them live out this truth, too.
Because here’s the thing: everyone messes up; it’s part of being human.
Normalizing & Embracing Our Mistakes
There is a negative stigma surrounding mistakes, and this is especially true in Western societies. We are terrified to mess up—as partners, as friends, as parents, as employees. It can sometimes seem the world is waiting for us to fail—I know this feeling is especially true for my friends who are new mothers. There is very little space allotted for mistakes in our culture.
But we need to rewrite this narrative. As one of my all-time favorite authors, Anne Lamott, puts it, “You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t. You take the action, and the insight follows: you don’t think your way into becoming yourself.”
Mistakes aren’t just inevitable, they are necessary for self-discovery. As the saying goes, “you miss the shots you don’t take.” We need to take all the shots, so we can learn and grow and discover who we aren’t, as well as who we are.
Everything ended up fine that night at the restaurant. Table 231 got their food, and my manager comped their meal. I kept waiting tables at that steakhouse for two more years. And while it was the last time I forgot to input an order, it wasn’t my last mistake as a server. Neither was it my final mistake in the workplace.
But I’m learning mistakes are a part of my story—and they can be a part of yours, too, if you allow for it. Of course, I don’t enjoy making them, but I try not to criticize myself when they happen. Instead, I take a deep breath, offer myself grace, and move forward in correcting my error. I consciously choose to receive each mistake as an opportunity to learn more about myself. Because the way I see it, mistakes are an offering of sorts. We can either loathe them, or we can lean in, receiving them as divine invitations for growth and self-discovery.
Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. Growing up beneath the evergreens in the Sierra Nevadas, she returns to California after a decade split between states—including three years lived abroad. With an MA in Nonfiction Writing, she’s passionate about storytelling and fantastic content, especially as it relates to mental health, feminism, and sexuality. When not in-studio, she’s camping, reading memoir, or advocating for the Oxford comma.