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I Hate Making Mistakes Because They Make Me Doubt Myself

June 7, 2010

My usual strategy when I make a mistake/break something/totally fuck up everything is to not apologize (but sometimes I do). I hate apologizing for accidents, for things that I couldn’t prevent, for my lack of knowledge. I guess that’s not very polite – but I try to not be polite if the situation demands it. I always worry about being too polite and on the verge of being a pushover. I also think it’s awkward and demands that the other person pacify the situation. And then I feel bad about apologizing.

I’ve made a couple classic mistakes so far. On my first day in Hawaii, I was getting some wood cut at Home Depot for making shelves for the ship and asked for it to be cut into 8 short pieces rather than 4 long ones because I misunderstood the requirements. That meant 2 extra trips carrying wood all over the ship. The day before yesterday, I did not properly tin the soldering iron and destroyed the tip. So we had to replace it a little earlier than would have otherwise been required.

I always feel bad when I make these sorts of stupid mistakes and internally dwell on them for some period of time. Outwardly, I nod that I understand what I did wrong and go about fixing it. I don’t hold grudges and I move on. My violin teacher once told me that I take criticism well, I think it’s a pretty good attribute. I know that I learn from these mistakes and that the people I’m working with make just as many mistakes all the time. A surprisingly high amount of mis-communication happens on a ship – especially one of this size. But I still feel bad about it.

That’s part of what I hated about rugby. I loved the team and running around and being active and being the sort of person who played rugby – but I made so many mistakes all the time. Stupid, painful, I still wince when I think about it mistakes. The best and worst rugby moments happened for me the same weekend. We were playing in a tournament – Beast of the East in Rhode Island. The first day of the tournament, I played some of the best rugby I’ve ever played. I kind of like being on a team that has just barely enough players because then I get to play for the whole game. If there’s even one sub, I’m out. It sucks because I love playing but I know I’m not that good at it. So even though I know that I should be the sub, I hate it.

The second day of the tournament, we had one sub … aka me. I did touch judge for the first half, assuming that I would sub in for the second half. Funny how I always assume that.

Half time came and went – no mention of me subbing in. I stood on the sideline, dejected. I had switched sides because our coach felt the other touch judge was cheating and that the ball was coming out more on that side and she wanted our team calling it. So, I wasn’t completely paying attention to the game at a particularly important moment when the ball just barely went out near our end line. Since I didn’t call it, play didn’t stop and the other team ended up scoring (debatably related to my missing that call, although I didn’t help). Everyone was pissed at me. Soooooo pissed. And I felt so horrible. I hadn’t been paying attention, so I hadn’t seen it, so I couldn’t call it.

While the other team kicked for their try, my team stood behind the goal posts. One of my teammates asked, “Can we have a different touch judge?” “I’m sorry!” I said (this seemed like an exception to my general rule). No one else said anything about me not touch judging and I continued to touch judge for the rest of the game.

It really put a sour taste in my mouth for the end of the season. At the moment, I thought to myself, “Damn it, this is why I’m not playing right now. Because I fuck up stupid shit like touch judge.”

At the end of the game, one of the professors who is a big fan of the team came over and told me that I did a good job and commended my moral character despite missing a call. “It’s not that big of a deal to miss a little call, you were being honest – which is better than stooping to the other team’s level.”

Sometimes I worry that this job or even engineering in general will be like rugby for me. I’ll really like it and I’ll want to do it – but I just won’t be good at it. Every time I make a stupid mistake, that thought flashes through my mind.

Maybe I don’t have to be bad at sports. Maybe that’s just this story I started telling myself when I was younger and the more I heard it, the more I thought it was true. Or maybe I’m just not naturally talented and so it just seems like I’m bad at sports when really I’m just not particularly good.

Alas, at least I generally appear to be better at engineering than sports. Although there is still this same troubling notion of “natural talent” and my internal debate regarding whether or not I have any … or if it even matters.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jake permalink
    April 2, 2011 19:19

    Yeah I’m a bit of a perfectionist myself and something as small as forgetting to check my mailbox before heading to my home will irritate me. Or even if I pull into the parking lot and remember “oh that’s right, I need to check the mail” when I told myself I would check the mail before heading home will piss me off sometimes because I didn’t execute the plans I had made. Or if I forget to get something as small as a box of tissues when I head to the store will irritate because again, I wasn’t perfect and made a mistake. I think the society we live in is so competitive nowadays that it seems that you have to fight for every inch and if you’re not perfect, than you’re not one of the “top dogs”. I’m not sure what the solution is but I feel like becoming rich and having nearly absolute 100% freedom is the only way to relieve myself of this perfectionistic burden but who knows, it’s all in the head anyway right?

  2. August 3, 2011 13:42

    I too confess to perfectionism. I hit one flat note for the first time at a rehearsal and that bothered me forever despite singing well otherwise. It’s like I highlight the negative. -_-

  3. sue permalink
    February 7, 2012 18:04

    It’s true that we even mild-mannered perfectionists beat ourselves up over mistakes. Hopefully, we learn from them and try not to repeat them.

    My problem is that I let my nerves get shot over something I’ve done, like my boss dramatizing an error. I was raised with very high expectations and overly critical parents. Even at 51, the little kid that wants to please stands there trying not to pee her pants.

    Subconscious feelings and memories, instilled in us by those who were supposed to provide support and security, remind us of how “imperfect” we are. Other people already know that and expect you to feel bad briefly, reiterate how you’ll be more careful, and then move on positively to the next task.

    Me? I mull over it for hours. I’ve tossed and turned in bed. I’ve had anxiety over what “awful thing” I’ll do next is going to happen. All are programs for self-destruction. You become what you feel you are. You are not able to think clearly and react rather than respond.

    I can only work on the mistake of responding unhealthily to mistakes. I know that I do much good and make many good choices. Perhaps not being so hard on one’s self and looking out for one’s mental health should come first and foremost.

  4. July 10, 2013 21:26

    Stop being hard on ya self its ok to make mistakes. ya my have ishue of your past or how you was raised god cane help ya

  5. Anonymous permalink
    January 1, 2018 23:37

    You’re not the only one who hates making mistakes. I do too. Therefore, I’m a perfectionist and proud of it.

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