For Those Who Haven’t Messed Up… Yet

Posted on Friday, Oct 02, 2015

We all know those perfect people—in fact, I’m one of them! *insert dramatic hair flip*
Not quite.
I am four weeks into my internship at the Department of Energy. Although my bioenvironmental sciences major didn’t quite set me up for work in HR, I’m learning a lot. I hit the ground running on Day 1, and since then my weeks have flown by with countless emails, meetings, and reflections like, “Wait, so what do I tell people when they ask what I want to do with the rest of my life?” which are met by deep pondering. Living in D.C. has also been exciting (can you say “Papa Francis?”), and I’d recommend this program to ANYONE remotely interested in policy—whether that’s in their respective field, related to federal or international policy, or just a curiosity. (Pssst, here’s a secret: you don’t have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life to be here!) Anywho, all in all, I’ve felt pretty successful throughout the adjustment.
Cue the mistakes.
This week, I felt the pressure of responsibility fall on my head. I’m thinking of two specific incidences (I say “specific” because I have a background project of working with Microsoft Access, which is a program that continually reminds me of my incompetencies… not always a bad thing).
First job: I was supposed to set up a meeting with a new contact within the Department of Energy. But I juggled emails in the wrong order—by the way, that means you should  check the newest emails first—so we ended up rescheduling a previously planned meeting two or three times. I also accidentally hung up the phone on my supervisor. Woopsies.

Second job: After the meeting with the new contact, I was supposed to relay another list of contacts. Somewhere in our exchanges, I misunderstood and instead coordinated an effort to reach out and secure participants for an event. The new contact then corrected me, and I had to go back and email all of the people we reached out to.
Although they weren’t disastrous mistakes that caused harm, I know that I probably didn’t seem excessively competent. Being able to schedule a meeting, answer the phone, and take orders—these are easy enough tasks. In the end, I smoothed things out with the parties involved and hopefully retained a positive reputation. How did I do it?

Here’s a survival guide to mistake recovery:
  1. Be polite, always. Use your “thank you”s and your “have a great day”s. That includes email, in person, and over the phone. Manners are not antiquated, even in the hoppin’ town of Washington, D.C.
  2. Accept when you’re wrong, and be ready to act and fix the mistake. Similarly, if you don’t know an answer, go and find it.
  3. Be genuine in your efforts to do the best job you can. Don’t take short cuts or the lazy way out. Send individualized emails to the parties involved, if it isn’t burdensome to the recipients.
  4. If/when you wear the wrong shoes to work, on the Metro, make sure that you have Band-Aids so that you don’t have to bother your coworkers, unless you enjoy gingerly walking around the office getting to know everyone with an ulterior motive.

So, for all you perfect people (and the rest of the world): Failing is a chance to show that you can handle mistakes with grace. It builds character. Happy failing!

Aly Miranda
U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, D.C. - Fall 2015