(first posted on October 24, 2010)
I was very excited to be asked to speak at a major national conference this past week. Although I only had two days to prepare, I felt comfortable with the topic and was confident with the message I had prepared. On the day of the conference, I arrived early and took time to interact with some of the participants during the group activities. After an active program, and networking at lunch, the participants settled in to listen to the speakers. I was second in the lineup.
The speaker before me was a very personable and engaging person who did not need a microphone. He walked freely around the room, and held us captive with his story about being called by the White House. As I listened to him and enjoyed his speaking style, I completely abandoned my plan to deliver my message from the podium where I could glance at my notes and face the room. By the time it was my turn to speak, the program was running 20 minutes behind and I felt the responsibility to get us back on track and speak to my slides.
The person introducing me called me to the front and invited me to share the story of how I came up with the name Yaya. I began telling the story. I explain that my mother thought I might have a problem with language because I could not say my name. She used to say, “pense que eras retrasada para hablar”. As I heard her words in my mind, I was automatically translating the message to English. So, I said, “My mother thought I was retarded”. The correct translation for “retrasada” is “delayed “ but I said retarded which has an entirely different meaning. Immediately, I realized my error, and was horrified as I was in a room with corporate professionals. AAACK!!
So what did do? I kept going without acknowledging my mistake. At that moment I thought I had lost all credibility with the audience, so I decided to charge on quickly as possible. I didn’t refer to my notes as much as I had planned and left out some of the great references I had researched during the preparation. To make matters worse, my positioning away from the podium was awkward with my notes behind me forcing me to turn away from the audience from time to time.
After the conference, I met with two of my NHLI hermanas (nhli.org), Rosalia and Carmen. I told them what happened and was feeling terrible about my mistakes. I explained, in very detailed fashion, each of my mistakes and was telling them, as much as I was telling myself, what I would do differently next time. 1) I would not modify my plan to match another speaker’s style, 2) I would not rush through my presentation ,and 3) If I misspoke, I would acknowledge it immediately and apologize to the audience.
These two amazing Yayas had this to say: forgive yourself. WOW! Those two words rescued me from the downward spiritual and emotional spiral I was on. I attest and agree with the notion that we overreact to our mistakes and as a result spend a lot of emotional energy on reliving the moment and beating ourselves up about it. If I can forgive myself I can save myself a lot of unnecessary pain and make better use of my emotional energy. So, what does it mean to forgive myself? It means accepting that I am human and as such, I will err. It also means letting go of the self anger, disappointment and feelings of failure. Easier said than done, verdad?
Well, here is how I am doing it. Every time that a negative thought comes up, “I can’t believe I did that”, “my reputation is ruined”, “they will never ask me to speak again”, I counter with loving and forgiving thoughts: “you are a good speaker”, “this experience is making you an even better speaker”, “you are learning valuable lessons that will make you very successful at what you do”. I know in my heart that if I were coaching a young speaker who had made this mistake, she would get my love and support and I would comfort her with the positive consequences of the mistake. I am treating myself the same way. Thank you hermanas for your love and salient advice!
Are you beating yourself up about past mistakes? Try letting it go and repurpose your emotional energies to love, comfort and forgiveness. Once your body, mind and spirit are freed of this burden who knows what you will accomplish.
I found this blog that has excellent advice on how to turn your mistakes into learning opportunities. http://blogs.hbr.org/hmu/2010/04/youve-made-a-mistake-now-what.html