Own the story of how you screwed up that one time and you’ll come out on top

Lately some clients have been talking to me about pressure to be perfect at work. They don’t want to show any flaws and maybe you don’t either. That’s too bad because a stellar, unsung story type you can use to advocate for yourself (beyond the origin story) is the lessons learned story.

“Mistakes are always forgivable if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee

Your lesson learned can be your gold star if you play it right. First, perfect is boring.

Everyone has a shiny, happy face they wear. It’s not special.

I get it. You only want to tell stories about the times you got it right. Like when you first tried surfing and a dolphin gave you a lift to an abandoned island where you found ancient treasure and simultaneously rescued an endangered species of pygmy birds from extinction. But who hasn’t? Tell us something with a little imperfection.

It’s time to tell the story of that time you blew it.

Here’s the deal. If you can tell the story of how you failed, you become relatable (unless it’s one of those hold-my-beer-I’m-about-to-meet-my-health-insurance-deductible kinds of stories). If you learned a lesson on top of it, now you’re smarter and stronger.  And if you can do that with a work anecdote it shows something even more important.

Lessons learned are special stories of experience. 

When you tell a story about a lesson you learned, it means you are beyond the theoretical. You’ve lived the real thing and that makes you the real deal. Skin cancer survivors are the best about applying sunblock, no? Guess who knows the most about security breaches? Someone who has been through one. No one is saying that cutting off a few of your own fingers makes you a more talented woodworker but it probably means you’re the go-to safety pro in the woodshop. People who have lived through something appreciate the costs and benefits more than anyone who has only hypothesized about it.

Share something you are good at now BECAUSE you learned the hard way.

You can preface how good you are at something with how you weren’t good at first. But don’t waste all your story real estate talking about the details of the mistake. Instead, spend the bulk of your time on the best part; how you wised up—and even applied your new knowledge—to become You 2.0. That is who your lessons learned story is really about.

And now for an inspirational treat. Here is a fellow human failing learning a lesson that can only make her wiser.

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  • Reply
    October 18, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Wise words, Lisa. Thank you for sharing!
    (I love the video at the end. I think a woman’s Life Lesson #1 should always be – Never Cut Your Own Bangs.)

    • Reply
      October 31, 2019 at 6:01 am

      Truer words! Thanks, Sarah.

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