update: I’m terrified of making mistakes at my first job

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was terrified of making mistakes at her first job? Here’s the update.

First off, I would like to send a GIANT thank you to you and all of the amazing readers who provided advice and words of encouragement on my initial post. Things were a bit hectic for me at the time the post was published, so I was unable to respond to the comments. But I can say that I read through each and every comment and was immensely grateful. As someone who is new to the workforce, all of the advice was beyond helpful!

Now, to the update. As you may have guessed, my worst fear came true and I have indeed made some mistakes! One highlight was obsessing over finding typos or grammatical errors in an email and then sending it only to realize I forgot to include a subject line. In each instance, I followed the advice I received in AAM and called myself out while saying “I’ll make sure to be more careful next time” instead of making a huge deal about it and apologizing a thousand times (which would have been my first instinct). Each time I was assured that it isn’t a big deal and in my weekly check-ins I frequently received praise for the high quality of my work and my self-awareness.

But then it happened… The mother of all mistakes! The industry I work in is very closely related to social media and PR, so it doesn’t require too much math (luckily for me!) but we do have to present data to our clients at the end of the quarter. Well, I made a huge mistake and did not use the correct formula on a powerpoint deck so some of the numbers we presented to a major client were completely off during the presentation. This was incredibly embarrassing for the more senior colleague who was leading the presentation. I was mortified and sure that I would never be trusted to take on any type of responsibility or meaningful project ever again.

And guess what… The world did not end!! After the presentation my colleague asked me how I had attained those numbers, taught me the correct way to do it, assured me that everyone makes mistakes, and continued to let me work on big and important projects (many of which have received praise from leadership!) In the end, this experience was actually helpful because it allowed me to grow and start incorporating new habits into my workflow to prevent something similar happening again.

Sadly, due to the loss of several major accounts and a major change in priorities (startup life), my company has undergone some major restructuring and my position was completely eliminated. After only 5 months at the company, I and about 15 other colleagues were laid off three days ago. While I am heartbroken to no longer be working for this company and alongside my team who I absolutely love, I am actively applying and optimistic about future opportunities. What’s more, my company handled things in the best way possible: I’ll be receiving severance pay and our recruiters and HR team are currently tapping into their network to help us find new opportunities. I was blown away by the number of colleagues (and a co-founder) who reached out to check on me after I received the news and offered to provide an excellent reference. I hope that I am able to find work soon and that my future company has the same amazing culture as this one!

Thank you again Alison & fellow AAM readers, I hope you all have a beautiful Holiday season!!

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. London Lass*

    This is a wonderful update! I think there is one more lesson to be learned here for your future career as well: because we all make mistakes, there is nothing more valuable than getting a second person to properly review what you prepare. My own professional training had a huge emphasis on that and it was very rare for me to not get a single comment back on something I had written. If I had been the senior colleague leading that presentation, I would have been pretty embarrassed not to have checked the figures properly myself after relying on another person to prepare them. But I am very glad they treated you well over it.

    1. London Lass*

      And of course, when I say wonderful, that doesn’t include the part where you lost your job. I’m sorry about that. But it sounds as though you have learned a huge amount and worked with some great people who have helped you start out really well, and having good role models from the beginning will shape your whole career. Good luck!

    2. MasterOfBears*

      I thought something similar! I train a lot of seasonal hires, and when they make routine mistakes, my first thought is no big deal, learning experience etc. etc. When they make a BIG mistakes my first thought is “oooo, what did I fail to communicate there?” Sounds like the senior was having a similar thought process.

    3. TechWorker*

      100% – I am mid level at my company and would always get review, there is zero chance I would let someone who’s been there less than 5 months present something to clients that hadn’t been reviewed!

  2. BRR*

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your job. I was fired after six months at my first job due to mistakes and honesty, that real work experience seemed to make it relatively easy to get my second job. I hope that same thing will happen to you. It sounds like you really learned from this and it was an awesome update to read.

  3. Observer*

    In the end, this experience was actually helpful because it allowed me to grow and start incorporating new habits into my workflow to prevent something similar happening again.

    This is SOOO important!

    I’m sorry you lost your job, but I’m glad it was a good experience and you are going out on a good note.

  4. Bookworm*

    I’m sorry you lost your job but appreciate the update and am glad that it is working about as well as it can these circumstances.

    Good luck!

  5. Mama Bear*

    Sorry the job didn’t last but very glad to hear that they value you and it was a growth opportunity.

  6. nep*

    Thank you for this wonderful update. You have shared some priceless and instructive insights here. Wishing you all the best.

  7. Nugget*

    What stood out most to me is that your colleagues and supervisors were patient with you and recognized that people make mistakes. Working with people who are supportive when it comes to mistakes makes all the difference. I just left my first job and similarly, I was terrified to make mistakes, and make them I did. Unfortunately, my supervisors weren’t supportive and my mistakes were held over me for months, even appearing on my annual performance reviews. Every mistake merited a several paragraph email chastising me and didn’t ever include an offer of help or questions asking for what we could do to make things better. As such, I stayed terrified and eventually left.

    1. Ugh*

      The lack of attention to detail by your more senior people is likely to be a part of the reason for the loss of clients. The rah-rah you’re so wonderful stuff only goes so far. There are mistakes then there are big mistakes. Your boss should have reviewed your numbers before the presentation. Good luck on your job search.

  8. Anon Here*

    I agree with Ugh above (assuming that was a nesting fail). Someone should have reviewed the PowerPoint before the presentation. Regardless of your position, experience level, or performance, it’s just a good idea to have important documents reviewed before they’re shared outside the company. Not your fault at all. People do make mistakes.

    If anything, being nervous about making mistakes is a good sign. It means that you care. That will serve you well in the long run.

    Best of luck in your search!

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