Anyone that has worked in a high pressured job will, at some point in their career, have made a mistake. For those of us that have to multitask, juggle many many different jobs and work for a number of Executives and colleagues the likelihood of making a mistake increases significantly. Now, I would love to say that I of course have never made any errors at work but, dear reader, I would be lying my backside off. Over the course of my career I have made loads of mistakes, some have not mattered and nobody really noticed but some have mattered greatly and everyone in the office knew about it.

There is nothing worse than getting that sinking feeling when you realise that you have made a mistake. It is such an isolating feeling and doesn’t disappear even when the panic kicks in. Probably the worse mistake I ever made at work involved tickets to a sold out international rugby game. My company had a number of tickets for England games and I was in charge of allocating the tickets to our Executive team so that they could take clients for corporate hospitality. The tickets were first come first serve so I sent out the initial email to the team asking them to get back to me if they wanted tickets. As you can imagine the demand was high and the tickets were snapped up straight away. Like any diligent assistant I put all of the information regarding the tickets and who they were going to on a spreadsheet. A few weeks before the game I received all of the tickets and ask the executives to collect them from me. A few days before the game all of the tickets had been collected and I had of course used my spreadsheet to note down who had collected the tickets. A day before one of the England games a very senior Executive came to my desk to collect his tickets. As soon as the words came out of his mouth my heart started pounding. I didn’t have any tickets left, they had all been allocated and his name wasn’t on my spreadsheet. The thought went through my head that he might be chancing his luck. But no he had an email to prove that I had in fact allocated tickets to him and to another Executive. S***!

The panic had certainly set in and I didn’t have the ability to make up an excuse so I told the Executive what had actually happened. He went berserk. He was taking very important clients and he had already told them he had the tickets. It was a nightmare. The Executive had a fierce reputation and certainly not someone you would want to get on the wrong  side of. He stormed off in search of my boss (who was luckily out for lunch). After a few tears and more swear words in the privacy of the ladies toilets I racked my brains for a solution. Here is what I did.

Fess up and own your mistake

I made sure I was the first person to see my boss as soon as he came back from lunch. He was a fairly approachable guy and I had a good relationship with him, which in this case helped enormously. After I  tearfully confessed to everything, his reaction was such a relief – he burst out laughing. He said that he was sure I would fix the situation and as it was rare I made mistakes he was happy to throw some money at the problem. I just had to make sure I placated both Executives and they both got their tickets.

Fix the mistake

The problem was that tickets for this bloody rugby game were like gold dust. It would have been easier to get the Executive into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It didn’t help that I also didn’t know the first thing about rugby or how to go about securing tickets. I phoned a friend who was a big rugby fan. For the second time that day I heard someone burst out laughing. I tried the official ticket line, they had sold out months ago. I tried a few other official channels and asked every assistant I knew if they had spare tickets before I resorted to resale tickets. There were plenty of tickets still available but of course the price per ticket was ridiculous. It was the only way I was going to solve the problem so, as my boss said, I threw some money at it and managed to secure four tickets.  Problem solved but at quite a cost to my organisation and my confidence.

Regaining your mojo

For me it really helped that my boss was understanding. If he had also shouted at me I’m not quite sure how I would have reacted… I probably would have burst into tears which wouldn’t have helped the situation at all or my reputation come to think of it! Although I had managed to get the tickets and everyone was happy (of course the extortionate tickets were better than the original ones!) I was very much aware that I had made a huge mistake. I retraced my steps and realised I had simply had remembered to added the Executive’s name to the spreadsheet once I had confirmed the tickets with him which meant that when the other Executive requested the tickets I thought they were still available. A simple mistake to make but not something I would usually do. I couldn’t even blame anyone else, this really was my mistake and I didn’t have any excuses.

So how did I get my confidence back. Well first of all this all happened on a Friday so that night I went out with some supportive friends and got very drunk. Over the weekend I was able to put my mistake into a little more perspective and decided to put it behind and make a fresh start on Monday. I decided that I was going to work extra hard that week and prove to myself that I was a great assistant. My boss at the end of the week joked that I should make mistakes more often. I was like a machine – everything that I had been putting off got sorted, my Executives didn’t know what hit them! I also made a few changes to my work procedures. I relied to heavily on spreadsheets so instead I made sure I converted all important emails into reminders  and tasks so that I could check I had actioned them at the end of each day. By the following Friday I had almost forgotten the entire incident. I did however spend the rest of my time at the organisation avoiding that Executive. I also got a lovely reminder of my mistake at my leaving do – a rugby shirt!

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5 comments

  • This was a great post! Obviously not quite how you felt at the time but you are amazing! And I love your honesty.

    You’re absolutely right that it helped having an understanding boss and he was pragmatic enough to just tell you what to do rather than make you feel bad. I was told once by a really amazing lady that if I did anything wrong, I should just go straight to her. She said that she may be able to do something given her position that I wasn’t, and it wasn’t in a mean way, it was just in a this is how work works way. She made me feel safe, and that was important. Shame I worked for her for about a week (she was a visiting attorney) but I’ll never forget that.

    Saba xxx

  • Kricia Romero July 11, 2014   Reply →

    Great article! Thank you for sharing. I can relate and appreciate your honesty – especially about the tears and toilets, and later drinking with your friends after the fact. ( Ha-ha!) Glad it all worked out in the end. Kudos to you! You are awesome!

  • Jo July 14, 2014   Reply →

    Hi

    Very good of you to share & obviously we all have these moments & the ‘not very nice’ exec should also realise this…anyhoo…it would be good to know how the mistake happened, was it just a case a mis-calculation?

    Thanks

    Jo
    xx

    • Hi Jo, thanks for your comments. I really did just forget to add the ‘not so nice’ exec to the spreadsheet. Such a silly mistake to make but pretty easy to do considering I was so busy. You live and learn I guess!

  • L.Mellow March 11, 2015   Reply →

    I came to your article, after making a large mistake myself today as a PA.
    I can completely relate to your feelings in this post, and at the moment, although I have found a ‘kind-of’ solution, I still feel like I have taken a knock to the confidence, as, similar to yourself, I do not usually make mistakes. My issue was with the fare change in flights, There was an airline sale on particular flights, and I was meant to have booked flights for 2 colleagues during the sale as it saved thousands of pounds. I sent an email to our travel agent and asked to put a hold on the flights, and advised that I would book them this morning. When I came to book them this morning I was told that the tickets are reissued each day and that the fare had gone up by triple.
    It is a lesson to be learned, I presumed that the flight on hold would be held at that fare.
    I have nobody to blame but myself, and no excuses.
    As you said in your post, I confessed to my boss and he was very relaxed about it. Unlike myself, who was shaking I was so panicky about telling him! I have found less good flights for a similar price to the good flights, But I still awful.
    Here’s to starting fresh tomorrow – it is refreshing to know that it is not just me that makes mistakes!

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