In grad school, I worked a part-time job to make ends meet. On one particular day, I was responsible for notifying everyone of their acceptance into a highly competitive summer program. I drafted the email and instead of typing in 35 email addresses or creating a mail merge, I decided that I would insert every single applicants’ email address into the “To:” field and then delete the email addresses for those who did not get accepted. Here’s where the trouble began: I sent out an email congratulating every single applicant for being accepted, without deleting the email addresses for those who had not been accepted into the program. As soon as I hit the send button, I knew I had made a mistake. My entire body completely shut down. Wide-eyed and frozen with fear, I realized that I had to tell my boss…immediately.
I ran into her office, apologized profusely and told her that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was sweating, shaking, and completely terrified at what her reaction was going to be. When I finished, she paused, looked at me and said, “It’s ok.”
“But I made a huge mistake!!! I am soooo sorry!”
“You didn’t make a mistake,” she said. “Let me tell you what a real mistake is.”
She began to tell me about her first high school job at a government agency. It was in the typewriter era when computers and shredders were still unheard of. Her job was to tear up any confidential papers that were placed in a specific pile. One day, a man came running and screaming into the office. He had placed his thesis in that pile. It was a thesis he had been working on for years and in a matter of minutes, it had been torn to shreds. Her supervisor came to her aid and said, “You placed it in the pile. She was only doing her job.”
After she finished with her story, she looked at me and said, “That was a mistake. This was not. We will make accommodations for everyone who was accepted and everything will be fine.”
I never forgot that moment or her reaction. It has allowed me to be forgiving, understanding, and flexible in moments when I otherwise would not have been able to.
Whether it is in a job or in a relationship, forgiveness and understanding are essential. We all make mistakes, we all have occasional bad judgment, and we all have moments of regret. When we are able to forgive people for the traits that we all share…life, relationships, and everything in between becomes a little more forgiving to us in return.