Why Is Fallibity So Hard to Admit?

Posted on January 21, 2013. Filed under: Work Issues | Tags: , , |

career mistakesIn a recent post, A Career Without Regrets? What’s That?, I talked about the quest to live a regret-free life. Essentially, I said that although it is a noble goal, and one we certainly would all like to achieve, in my mind, it is pretty unattainable because, well, we’re all fallible. Therefore, you are bound to make a mistake, at some point along the way, and have a regret. Essentially, I’ve yet to meet someone who isn’t perfect.

But, boy, do most people these days work so hard to make you think they are! (I know because I used to suffer from this disease myself.)

The road to a cure for me, however, has been my work as a freelance technical copy editor (my second venture outside of the resume work I do). Nothing makes you realize the fallibility of all of us more than when you must perform a job with the sole purpose of finding and correcting people’s  mistakes (and telling them, hopefully delicately, about them) while trying to avoid making some of your own. It humbles you. Or at least it should. (I am always amazed by my snooty grammarian colleagues who act as though they never make them, especially when the whole reason for our existence is to acknowledge that everyone does eventually and we’re here to help cover it up! But then again, they’re probably just victims of the same predicament that seems to be running rampant these days.)

Another avenue in my road to a cure was when as a parent, I realized that I was installing in my daughter a fear of, or refusal to admit, her imperfections. Somewhere along the way I inadvertently gave her the impression that being wrong was, well, something to hide. Ouch. How’s that for a wakeup call?

The funny thing is that I have never thought I was infallible. I’m too much of a perfectionist for that. :) I’ve always been aware of my limitations and mistakes. Acutely aware. I just wanted to hide them as much as I could…you know, to make it look good.

The solace I take in all of this is that to varying degrees, the world around me seems to have the same problem (misery loves company and all).

It’s fallible, and it doesn’t want to admit it.
And for good reason…we’re in love with the presentation, the performance, the pretending!

I see this all the time in business. As a copy editor, I cannot tell you how many hours have been wasted on projects because of debates with authors who just don’t want to admit that their sentence or word choice or typo was wrong. I’ve even had authors make up words and then try to tell me that it really is a word just because they heard “someone else” use it!

And boy do they love to cause a raucous if they should discover I made a mistake. I had one author who put together a journal article that was so poorly written, it was almost illegible (so much for peer review). I spent days working on this document, trying to get it into something that could be read (and understood) by his highly esteemed audience. I was so proud that I could offer that to him. But instead of being grateful and seeing my role as a support to him, he became defensive because apparently he felt “exposed” for what he really was…a pretty poor writer.

So, then, when it was discovered that I had misplaced one comma in the whole document (caught by our proofreader well before publication…you know, the very reason for proofreading and all…), he became so upset, he went complaining to the publisher, who then promptly scolded me to be more careful and not to make “mistakes.”

Not make mistakes? Really? How do I guarantee that promise, particularly in a market that wants faster and faster turnarounds and less and less proofreading?

Is that what I am…the sum of my mistakes?

Or could it just be that we don’t know how to deal with our own imperfections, so we chastise others for theirs?

In my other hat as a resume writer, the quest to present the illusion of perfection has never been stronger. Candidates are under so much pressure to seem like more than they are. Companies get in a huff about lying on resumes, but then they set hiring standards that have been drummed up in some fantasy imagination. They know what they are looking for is almost certainly not out there, but they are going to pretend it exists by taking the candidate who does the best job of seemingly fulfilling the illusion.

Sigh.

You know, I hear people say all the time “nobody’s perfect,” but I’ve come to believe that most people actually don’t believe that. At least they certainly don’t act like they do because here they are covering up all their peccadilloes, hoping no one will see that they actually aren’t perfect.

It’s exhausting, really, and counterproductive.

No wonder very few team-oriented projects succeed.

And yet, the technical marketplace (you know, the one that is actually hiring these days?) is full of team-oriented projects.

Listen. Setting high standards is great. Important even. But setting them and forgetting that people are fallible is a recipe for disaster.

Certainly there are plenty of instances where we seem to suffer from a complacency of diminished expectations (our government would be one example; if it could just succeed at one thing, we would all be overjoyed as we have come to expect nothing but failure in that area). But in our world where Donald Trump (whom I’m pretty sure has had plenty of business/personal failures of his own) fires anyone on TV who makes a mistake while playing his anything-but-reality “reality game show” (or who doesn’t shout and scream and carry-on in the boardroom the loudest), we tend to forget there is a world out there that we actually live in.

And yet, we still go around with our famous quip of “nobody’s perfect.”

Maybe it should be “nobody’s perfect but let’s pretend they are.”

For oh how we seem to like to pretend! Too bad for us, though, that it’s reality that always wins…

(PS: Can you believe that when I first went through this post that I actually misspelled “fallibility” as “fallability”? Maybe I was onto something, though, and should have left the misspelling…but then again, I wouldn’t want the irony to get lost on anyone!)

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One Response to “Why Is Fallibity So Hard to Admit?”

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Good points. Mistakes are great if you learn from them.


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