One of the best and most helpful things anyone ever said to me was: Don’t advertise your mistakes.
You will often notice when you’ve made an error, or when there’s something you could have done better, or etc, and sometimes other people will notice too. But often, they won’t. So don’t point it out.
It’s really a sign of a lack of self confidence – you think that if you point out the error first, it will save someone else from having to point it out for you. That by being self-depreciating, no one else will feel obliged to point out your flaws.
But here’s the thing. People don’t notice jack shit, most of the time. Sure, yeah, sometimes you’ll fuck up and people will notice and mention it, and thats fine, but 95% of your errors will go unnoticed. Unless you choose to point them out, in which case, you ensure that 100% of your errors get noticed.
The above sentence was said to me during a dance rehearsal. I’m not a pro dancer by any stretch of the imagination – this was a fun little between-friends dance that we were going to perform at a medium sized function full of people we knew. Half the people in the group did have dance experience, which made me - a non-dancer - feel self concious. So every time I messed up the steps, I would laugh at myself or made an “agh” sound or be verbally frustrated with myself that I was struggling to get that move, or whatever. Which drew peoples attention to the fact that I’d made an error.
There were like 10 of us doing this dance; me missing one step went largely unnoticed in the scheme of things, because with ten of us, anyone watching the dance had so much to look at that the likelihood of them seeing me misstep was extremely low. Unless I made a big deal about it, which would draw their attention to me, and ensure that they were made aware.
I used to point out my mistakes all the time. Not just with the dance, but across the board in general life, too. “Agh, whoops,” or handing over a completed project like “I know I could have done [thing] better, but hopefully the rest is ok,” or whatever. People were often frustrated with me, and I feel, in hindsight, that they were frustrated with me because in their eyes, with me constantly highlighting my own errors, they knew I could do better but instead here I was, giving them a shoddy, half-assed, error-filled effort. By me pointing out my every mistake, they were aware of how many I was making, and they were frustrated by my seemingly endless errors.
Then I got told to “stop advertising your mistakes,” and it was a bit of a revelation moment for me. I made a concious effort that day to minimise my reaction to my own mistakes – for the rest of the rehearsal and into the final performance – and you know what happened??
After the performance, countless people said some iteration of the phrase, “I didn’t know you could dance!!”
They thought I was a dancer. That I’d been dancing for years. They hadn’t noticed any of my missteps.
I messed up multiple times during the final performance. If I watch the recording and focus on me, I can see my missed steps, the time I span clockwise on the spot instead of anticlockwise, the time I was slightly out of alignment with the other dancers, etc. But if I watch the dance as a whole, watching all 10 dancers instead of just me….. I dont notice the mistakes I made. They blend in. Theres too much other stuff going on for anyone to notice the one dancer who spun on the spot in the opposite direction to everyone else.
And everyone thought i was brilliant. All I noticed, while dancing, were my mistakes, but no one else saw them, and everyone who saw the dance was super impressed with it and with me. That would not have been the case had I reacted to every one of my errors as I’d made them.
So I took that concept and applied it to the rest of my life. And you know what???? People were less frustrated with me. Because they weren’t noticing my minor errors, and I wasn’t pointing them out any more, so from their perspective, it looked like my output had improved. It looked like I was making “less errors.” I wasn’t, its just that before, I was pointing every one of them out, and now, I was letting people notice them on their own. And they didnt notice them.
You are always going to be hyperaware of yourself and your own mistakes, but other people are way too distracted by their own crap and have too much other stuff drawing their attention to notice your every misstep. So stop pointing your mistakes out. Stop being your own worst critic. Everyone fucks up now and then, its fine. You fix the error if you can, and you move on. You dont have to pre-empt someone else pointing out your mistakes, because its extremely likely that they wont notice your errors. Unless you point them out.
So stop advertising your mistakes, people.
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