It’s 2011. Why hasn’t someone invented an eraser that works on life? Photo courtesy of theilr. Licensed under CC BY-2.0.Two weeks ago, I started my summer internship at a TV station here in Texas. I’ve had fairly mediocre summer jobs before (some much worse than others), but this has been by far the best job I’ve ever had. Even doing relatively boring tasks seem not-so-awful because, hey, I’m working at a TV station. This is kinda what I want to do after college, so I’m pretty much stoked to be doing anything.

Last Thursday, I needed to go to a local printer and pick up a poster that the station had made for an event that weekend. To anyone else in the office this would be a drag to have to take an hour out of their day to drive to go get it, but not for me. I am super intern, ready to spend my gas money for a job that isn’t paying me. So I drive out half an hour to get the poster through horrible Austin traffic, and then drive the half hour back again through horrible Austin traffic. I get back to the office and hand my boss the poster, feeling very pleased that I was entrusted with this significant job. I open my wallet to hand her back the department credit card.

Ho. Ly. Shit.

It is not in my wallet. The credit card is not in my wallet. WHERE IS THE CREDIT CARD.

Panic thus ensued as I excused myself to go look for the credit card in my car. Having now dealt with this situation, I’ve come up with a few tips for how to handle yourself when something goes seriously wrong at work.

Do Not Wallow

My first instinct was to panic and probably cry a little. This was my first real interaction with the department head, and I had lost the credit card. Here I was trying to be super intern and make a good impression on everyone, and I had done something so incredibly stupid.

However, spending your energy on thinking of how dumb you are for messing up or how you just should have done something else is not going to solve your problem. It’s a lot easier to just wallow in your misery, but it doesn’t fix the problem. Panicking is okay, but after a minute or two, you’ll need to get your head out of the past and get it into the present and future so you can fix the situation.

Take Responsibility

My second instinct was to blame the girl who ran the credit card at the store. She didn’t hand me back the credit card and didn’t even know I had left it there until I came bursting back in there an hour later. But it wasn’t her fault. I was the credit card holder, it was my responsibility.

As soon as I realized that I had left the card at the store, I told my immediate boss what had happened. I really didn’t want to admit to what I had done, but I knew it would be worse to ignore it. Taking responsibility shows that you realize your mistake and you are prepared to fix it. Blaming it on someone else will probably make you sound more incompetent than if you actually own up to your mistake.

Take Back Control

Instead of panicking and pacing around the office, I decided that I just needed to go right back out to the poster store and retrieve the forgotten card. There really wasn’t any other alternative, but the decision needed to be made fast. The mistake had already been made, and there was nothing to do about it now. I didn’t have a time machine, so I couldn’t fix that the card was already there. But I could take control of the situation that I had created and make it right.

Taking control of your situation is the best way that you can handle a mistake. If you’ve made a mistake in a project at work and realize that you’ve been set back, make an effort to get to work early in order to make up for lost time and to show your superiors that you have what it takes to overcome your mistakes.

In the end, I took another hour out of my day to fight through Austin traffic (again) in order to get the card back. Everything turned out just fine, and I know that I’ll never make the same mistake again.

Mistakes aren’t bad things. We learn from them, and they’re necessary to make us better workers and better people. Mistakes suck. But it’s how you handle them that affects you the most.

How have you handled big mistakes you’ve made? Let us know in the comments?