Because of the negative connotations associated with fuck ups (aka making mistakes), many people fear them, and this fear leads to our avoiding doing things that are outside of our comfort zone. While making fuck ups might be scary, fear is a wonderful indicator that we are doing new things, moving into new areas, and undertaking new challenges. In this way, fear is a good thing, as it means that we are still growing, we are still alive. Arguably, if we are not experiencing some element of fear it means that we are stagnating -- try to see fear as an indicator of growth and welcome it.
"Anyone who has never made a mistake (fucked up,) has never tried anything new.” - Albert Einstein
Fuck ups help us land in a place of teachability, a place in which we’re more receptive to new influences and perspectives. Call it a necessity or humble pie. They help us to remember that all of our efforts, whatever they come to or don’t come to, are how we know we are seizing our chance to play the game of life each day. The more passionately we play, the more we get out of it. But that invariably means more, not fewer, screw-ups and errors, that at the moment might seem of colossal proportion.
“You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” - Richard Branson
But remember, there is a big difference between fucking up and being a fuck up:
Fucking up: Not being afraid to take risks that have limited downside. Starts with taking a calculated risk and ends with you being better at your job than you you were before you took that risk. The outcome of your actions is not what was desired, but outcomes are a little bit better going forward because of the experience.
Being a fuck-up: Lacking ownership over what you do and making the same mistakes over and over. Usually, this comes from being afraid to ask questions, lazy and assumptive, or just being in a rush to “do things” and in turn not being present in your work.
How we react to our mistakes, not getting defensive or explaining them, but instead turning them into a growth opportunity is what defines our long-term success.
Some Good Fuck Ups vs Bad Fuck Ups
Scenario 1: You just got promoted and now have 5x more work.
BAD FUCK UP: You work harder and faster. And end up making some mistakes in your work because you’re trying to do too much.
Why this is bad: Getting promoted is like leveling up. What worked for you at level 1, no longer works at level 2. Trying to tackle 5x the amount of work with the same amount of resources is just asking for failure, burn out and anxiety.
GOOD FUCK UP: You decide to try your hand at prioritization and delegation. You tell your boss what you’ll focus on and work with your team to delegate. It all goes horribly because it’s your first time. Your boss thinks you have no idea what the company’s priorities are, and your team thinks you have no idea how to manage.
Why this is good: I know this sounds awful, but don’t worry… You’ve correctly identified that your new level means new problems, which in turn means you need new skills to tackle those problems. You shouldn’t expect to immediately kick ass at your new level. Fortunately, courageously attempting to acquire these new skills is what’s going to have you kicking ass in no time.
Key takeaway: Good Fuck Ups refocus on new skills that let you conquer new levels. What got you here, won’t get you there. (side note: You will be tempted to just revert back to level 1... don't do it!)
Scenario 2: You’ve received feedback that your presentations are long-winded and have too many slides.
BAD FUCK UP: You go through your presentation with a fine-toothed comb and decide to cut out 8 slides (from 87 slides). Your 1.5-hour presentation is reduced by 10 minutes. Nobody is particularly happy, but everyone can see that you tried.
Why this is bad: You’re still making the mistake of being long-winded, you’re just being a bit less long-winded. You’ve learned nothing, and all you’ve done is mitigated the mistake.
GOOD FUCK UP: Forcing yourself to present from 3 slides (including the cover) and limiting yourself to a 15-minute presentation. By going to this extreme, you make the mistake of being too brief and missing out on important points. As a result, your boss tells you that you’ve missed out a crucial point.
Why this is good: This sounds bad, but it’s actually fantastic because you now realize your presentation has a total of 4 important points. In contrast, you originally thought you had 27 important points. You also realize that 15 minutes was too short, but 25 minutes would more than suffice.
Key takeaway: Good Fuck Ups are an over-accommodation of bad mistakes. Rather than chipping away at tiny incremental improvements, making mistakes on the other extreme lets you see where the boundaries actually lie. You learn much faster and can make huge leaps.
Here’s how our Engagement Managers define “We Fuck Up”