The Mistake: Falling Down, But Laughing Back Up

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

I was facilitating a workshop at a conference last week, and had prepared what I thought was a fun and fast-paced agenda. Heading into the session, I plotted out the timing of all the activities so that I would stay on track. As the session went along, though, I found myself feeling rushed and having to cut activities because time was flying by, and before I knew it I had to move to “inspirational ending,” tossing out a Mother Teresa quote and urging them to take a river stone from me as they moved to their next session. It was 10:15 am. On the dime! What great time management!

I rushed to the back of the room so that I could stand by the door and distribute stones to everyone as they left… and was a bit surprised that no one was rushing to get up.  People were chatting at their tables, filling out their evaluations, and generally taking their time. Then, a colleague of mine came from down the hall, and expressed dismay because she was hoping to sit in on part of my session. I joked that she would have only gotten about two minutes-worth in, and she looked at me puzzled—pointing out in the conference program that my session went until 10:45.

10:45? 10:45! Of course it went until 10:45! I knew that, and originally planned my agenda for that, but somehow that morning I had flipped that in my head to 10:15. No wonder I felt so rushed!

So, of course it was too late to repair my mistake—by that point people had left, were leaving, or were generally busy with other things.

Now—here is the interesting part. My first reaction was panic—how can I FIX THIS/HIDE THIS/MAKE THIS GO AWAY???? My second reaction was to start sweating profusely. My third reaction was to invite all the voices in my head to tell me what a horrible person/miserable failure/stupid jerk I am (all the while smiling at the people as they were exiting the room). My fifth reaction was to immediately tell on myself to the conference organizer who happened to be walking by at that moment. And my sixth reaction was to laugh, and then proceed to tell as many people as possible what had happened.

And the people I told? Did any one of them confirm what the voices in my head were telling me, that yes indeed I am a horrible failure who should never be invited to present at a conference again? No. Instead, every one of them either A) laughed with me in empathy or B) told me that my participants were probably grateful for the gift of a bit of bonus free time.

You hear that? My ending a half hour early was a GIFT to my participants. You’re welcome, participants. You are welcome.

But seriously. I’m fascinated by my response to making a mistake, and how I had to battle my way toward acceptance. How it takes a self-lashing before I can get to laughing. No matter how much my head knows that mistakes are how we learn and grow (and no matter how often I say that to others), it still takes me a minute to get there.

Which is precisely why it’s so important that we have the courage to share our mistakes out loud with each other. Why it’s so important to show that we’re human. The more we can, the more those around us might feel courageous enough to do the same. I’m thinking now how especially important this is as a parent—to own up to the mistakes I make with my children and say I’m sorry, and to share with my children the mistakes I make at work—to show them how you can laugh about them, move on from them—how life really does go on… even when you accidentally send people out the door thirty minutes before you are supposed to.

What mistake can you laugh about today?



What mistake can you laugh about today?



Wings & Whimsy Activity:

Think about mistakes you’ve made—recently and long ago. What’s your typical response to making a mistake? How long does it take you to get from “lashing” to laughing? What strategies have you discovered help you own, and move forward from, mistakes? What holds you back? Feel like sharing? Use the comments section below or tweet me @ErikaPetrelli1.




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"The Mistake: Falling Down, But Laughing Back Up", The Leadership Program, 2016


Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.