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My One Wrong Email to 85 Wrong Recipients!

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Miley Cyrus, best known by her stage name Hanna Montana, sang in 2008 “Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days…” That song is known as “Nobody’s Perfect” and is still a hit after thirteen years. Today in the spirit of making mistakes, I want to share with you a few life-transforming lessons I’ve learned from my biggest blunder six years ago. What did I do? I sent a confidential email to eighty-five unintended recipients! It was an honest mistake but the consequences were a humiliating nightmare. Nevertheless, when I look back, I can talk about some valuable lessons I learned. Today’s post is about those lessons.

Live by the Peter Parker Principle

“With great power comes great responsibility” was uncle Ben’s proverbial advice to Peter Parker or young Spider-Man. Today, Marvel fans refer to it as the “Peter Parker Principle.” Six years ago when I sent that disastrous email, I was functioning as the Secretary for a very important committee. It was a lot of power at the hands of a young man in his early 30s. That email was a genuine mistake but the bottom line is that my mistake caused harm to good people. It was then I realized that the mistakes that powerful people make have a disastrous impact on people below them. Therefore, when you have great power it must be accompanied by great responsibility. In other words, people who possess power must exercise it with great care. So, the Peter Parker Principle was the first lesson I learned.

Check twice before sending Once

J.P Morgan once said, “You can’t unscramble eggs” – It means you can’t undo the effects of having said something. Most forms of Electronic Communication are like a spoken word. The same is true for email. You can’t undo what you sent. (In Gmail, you can retract a message for a short time after sending but that’s it.) The only workaround is to double-check before pressing “Send” – In my case, I sent the wrong email to the wrong mailing list because I didn’t double-check. Therefore check twice before sending once is the second lesson I learned from my mistake. I even make use of the “Schedule” (Send Later) feature in Gmail now. That way I have time for making changes if necessary. I can even discard the whole message if I change my mind later.

Don’t mistake ego for Reputation

Maxime Lagacé the Canadian Ice Hockey player once said “Dissolve your ego before it dissolves you” – I was at a meeting a week before the said incident transpired and someone happened to challenge the minutes I had recorded at the previous meeting. That was the issue I intended to address in that email. It was an issue I could have communicated to the committee verbally. I could have waited until the next meeting to share my concerns. I could have prevented a major mistake if I had waited. Still, I didn’t because my ego stood between me and my wisdom. I mistook my ego for my reputation as a secretary. I was keen to prove I am right and the other person was wrong. I wanted to show who is in charge. I wanted to show I am the boss. The outcome was a disaster. My ego dissolved me. So, the third lesson I learned was, don’t mistake ego for reputation.

Don’t Pass Your Buck onto Others

Bruce Lee once said “Mistakes are always forgivable if one has the courage to admit them” – When I realized my mistake, the first thing I did was call Palitha Jayasooriya my superior at the time, and tell him. Perhaps it was because I was outnumbered by 85 eyewitnesses and not because I was courageous. But it made me wonder. Will I still admit my mistake if I can cover it up? When there’s no way out, most of us take the fall. That is not being courageous. Being courageous is to take full responsibility for your mistakes at all times. It won’t do much to improve the consequences but the majority of people will respect you for your integrity. I must take responsibility for my actions. I can’t and shouldn’t shift the blame. So don’t pass your buck onto others was the fourth lesson I learned.

When You are Powerful be Merciful

An individual who was affected by my mistake demanded that I resign from the office of the secretary right away. Palitha, my superior, could have easily served my head on a silver platter. Rather he was so forgiving and stood by me through that dark and trying time in my life. So, the final takeaway from my blunder was when you are powerful be merciful. It’s in fact the greatest lesson I learned. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice” – This lesson transformed the way I handled authority. Even though I resigned from that Committee two years after this incident, I kept in mind I am to show mercy unto others like I received mercy. As a result, I am able to see the greater good that exists in people despite their minor failures.

Wrap Up

Everyone makes mistakes in life, but that doesn’t mean they have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Sometimes even good people make poor decisions. This isn’t to say they’re evil people. It shows that they are human. If you’re looking for help to recover from a past failure, I can point you in the right direction today. Please feel free to drop me an email and I will connect you with people willing and capable of helping you. People who will accept you and not judge you. [Read my previous post “How to keep conflicts at work to a Minimum?” in the event you missed it]


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