Self Development
After Goofing, What Next ? Five Golden Rules

by DP Sabharwal
Goofing up may be a natural phenomenon as "He who makes no mistake, never makes anything." Does it mean that we can afford to take it as lightly as said? What really matters is what you do after you realise your mistake.
"An Engine technician was installing an idling device on an engine when one bolt broke inside while he was tightening the bolt. In order to conceal this from others, he tried to drill out the broken bolt all by himself by holding the idling device in a bench vice. All he succeeded in achieving was to drill an eccentric hole thereby damaging the internal threads of the idling device. The whole assembly had to be sent to the repair agency."
Most of us, whatever field we are in, have goofed sometime or the other. Though it may be a natural phenomenon and, as a proverb puts it: "He who makes no mistake, never makes anything"; yet we cannot afford to take it as lightly as said. This is because of the disastrous consequences of certain mistakes. Now, whether these mistakes go unnoticed or are brought to light depends upon you. The mistakes which are unearthed areof a serious nature and teach us a lesson. However, the mistakes which are of a lighter nature go unnoticed and are, in fact, more serious since these initiate a chain of events which can culminate in a disaster.
There is, invariably, some reason for making mistake. But there can never be any reason for hiding it. The moment one realizes that he has made a serious mistake, frantic questions run through his mind. These are of the nature:
  • Should I tell my immediate superior or try to cover it up?
  • Will it affect me at the time of my annual assessment?
  • If my subordinates find out, will I lose their confidence and respect?
  • For God's sake, what should I do?
So it really isn't as simple as goofing. In fact, herein lies the real problem.
Every mistake calls for its own particular antidote, of course, but here are a few general principles that can be applied to any mistake in orders to minimize the damage and maximize the benefits that can often be garnered from the mistakes.
  1. Do not Panic!
    Making a mistake is usually upsetting, but it is not the end of the world. Normally, one is not likely to fly apart when he makes one. True, he is not supposed to make mistakes in the first place, but a certain quota from technical donors is inevitable as per the laws of probability. And statistical figures will prove this point.
    But, do not panic you are only going to cause more damage by doing so.
  2. Do not try to conceal a mistake
    No one expects you to broadcast your mistakes, but you are certainly expected to tell the right person about it. To hide your mistake may prove to be a crime when it comes to critical areas. The pity is that in these cases it is invariably someone else who has to pay for it. So speak up & you will save that somebody's day.
    Your mistake in areas like mentioned above is likely to cause loss or damage to an aircraft and perhaps result in a loss of life as well. In such cases, the person must tell his superior immediately. The sooner a mistake is known, the sooner the efforts can be made to rectify it. Even though your boss won't be happy when you make a mistake, he would rather hear about it from you than be caught unawares after the damage is done.
  3. Admit it was your error
    It is quite natural to justify your mistake by finding someone or something else to blame. Some of us feel that an admission of mistakes reveals professional incompetence. No, we are humans after all and we can all make mistakes. You have got to fight the fear that you will lose face with your colleagues, your subordinates and your boss. In most case such fears are unfounded, unless you have foolishly tried to build an image of infallibility. Admitting a mistake will often raise esteem rather than lowering it.
  4. Learn from your mistakes.
    A mistake can be a useful ‘warning signal' that there is something basically wrong with the way you are handling a particular part of your job. Try to analyze each action of yours and find out where the loophole is and avoid it in future. Your superior will help you in this and it is his job to perfect the working condition so that the mistake is not repeated.
  5. Do not brood over your mistakes
    Learn from your mistakes and you shall not feel sorry for yourself. It only makes matters worse to let a mistake nag you. Do not stay awake the whole night re-living it. Do not allow it to sap your confidence and willingness to move decisively on the problems that confront you. This does not mean that you can blithely laugh off a mistake and ignore its lessons. But it does mean that you can't afford to let a mistake throw you for a toss because, if you do, you will probably end up making more mistakes as a result of worry and anxiety.
Your first aim should be to make as few mistakes as possible. But when you do pull a boner, know how to make best of it, not the worst!
Basics do not change even after 30 years!  This article is a revamp of the original one by the author published in Safety Journal (May, 1979) of the Indian Air Force.

Wg Cdr DP Sabharwal (Retd) is a post-graduate in Aeronautical Engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He worked in the Indian Air Force for 25 years on fighter (Hunter, MiG-21, MiG-29) aircraft and helicopters (Chetak, Cheetah, Mi-8). He sought voluntary retirement in 1995 to pursue a career in teaching and writing.

A Fellow of Institution of Engineers and the Aeronautical Society of India, Sabharwal is visiting professor at engineering and MBA institutes and a Corporate Trainer on behavioral skills. Author of 22 books including 'A Finer You' a book on personal grooming, manners and etiquettes; he is settled in Bangalore (India) and can be contacted at