So you made a mistake on the job. And this time, your blunder wasn’t a minor typo or misunderstanding that could happen to anyone; it was a big deal. A really big deal. You have no easy excuse, since this blunder really was your fault and you passed up at least one opportunity to prevent it from happening. You also have no advocates rushing to your defense, since your teammates and coworkers don’t share culpability and may not even fully understand what went wrong. You’re alone, you screwed up, and you have nobody to blame but yourself. So what now?
Here are a few ways you can turn this epic crash landing into a long-term win for your career. All hope is not lost, but you’ll have to take a few critical steps—and you’ll need to take them now—if you intend to make a graceful recovery.
First, be patient.
The road back from a blunder like this will probably be long and winding. Don’t expect instant results and instant forgiveness, no matter what you do. Plan for the long term, and set a reasonable expectation. For example, you may not put this entirely behind you and return to a new normal within the next month, or even the next year. Settle in for a long climb.
Second, think about others around you.
Did your mistake hurt anyone other than yourself? Did you make someone else look bad? Did you compromise someone else’s career prospects? Did your blunder put someone’s life or health at risk? Did you undo hours or years of someone else’s hard work? If so, gather your courage, face this person (or people) and set things right. Own what you did, apologize sincerely, and if you don’t know how to get back what the person lost, ask.
If you lost your job, don’t sit still.
It’s easy to give in to despair if you find yourself happily employed on Monday and home in the middle of the day on Tuesday. But don’t wallow. Talk to a legal expert if you may have been treated unfairly, and again, if you hurt someone, do your best to set things right. Start putting together a job search plan and as you sell yourself to prospective employers, be ready to explain what you learned from this incident and how it helped you grow. You’re not a bad person, you just made a bad mistake. This incident does not define you. Give yourself one day to brood, then get moving.