We live in a world of duality, and sometimes, things aren’t really black and white. Most of the time, we live in a grey zone, or perhaps more interestingly, a multicoloured zone that is as brilliant as a rainbow.
Ever lived in a world where someone pointed out a mistake you made at the workplace and you thought to yourself, “Oh gosh, how could I have missed that?” Sometimes, our peers or colleagues or supervisors or big boss aren’t so gracious, or sometimes, we ourselves are our own harshest critics. We may tend to pick on ourselves apart to bits and pieces, and we wonder why the world looks so bleak and bleary at times, or why we even exist for being such a failure.
Why are we sometimes harsh on ourselves? We need to ask ourselves this question. Is it because we imagine others will come down hard on us if we don’t shape up according to their expectations, so we choose to be harsh on ourselves first to save ourselves from possible criticisms from others? Is it because we grew up in a largely unforgiving culture where we are punished or penalised for the slightest error we made? Or is it because we have a perfectionist attitude, which may well be a sign of not wanting to deal with our inner insecurities and anxieties?
Today, we are going to talk about mistakes we commonly make in editing, or in publishing in general. As long as we are human, we are bound to make mistakes here and there. We are not machines. Even if we are, machines are finite or limited too, and are subject to an odd malfunction or two, no matter how well designed or maintained they are.
In publishing, we are encouraged to minimise mistakes or produce error-free materials. To put it in another way, we are discouraged from making mistakes. In this world we live in, where capitalism runs the world, where meritocracy runs the gauntlet (this expression came to mind, though I don’t really know what it means), and where our value and worth and earning potential is (are?) often tied to how well we perform, there seems little or no room for errors or weaknesses in the workplace.
In this session, we are going to talk about mistakes and confess that each of us makes mistakes. We are going to learn to embrace mistakes as part of our human existence, and accept imperfections as part of our whole being.
Does that mean that I am encouraging you to make more mistakes in editing and publishing? The answer is: neither yes nor no, or yes and no, depending on how you look at it. Yes, only by acknowledging we make mistakes can we learn from them and be responsible for doing better next time. No, we know that making mistakes – whether one mistake or many mistakes – can have less than positive consequences, such as being graded poorly in performance appraisal, or not leaving a good impression on readers who buy our materials, and so on.
But the way to deal with mistakes and maintain a high quality of materials in a healthy way is not to stress ourselves out trying to avoid making mistakes or to deny our imperfections or hide our imperfections. Because one, we will continue to struggle with a sense of insecurity, inferiority (which is superiority on the flip side of the coin) and low self-esteem. Two, it can lead to a blame and denial culture. We need to learn to take ownership of ourselves – the good and the bad. Three, blaming invariably leads to shaming, whether others or ourselves. It may become a vicious cycle of blaming and shaming, and the way out is to deal with mistakes at the root.
You see, many workshops and training sessions focus on the effects rather than the root causes. They focus on “do this” and “don’t do that”. There is a place for that, but we are mostly dealing with the issue on the surface or on a superficial level. It causes us to forget who we really are and put us on a stressful treadmill to become something or someone whom we already are.
For example, the system or mindset of the world tells us “If you do this, you will become someone. If you produce zero-error materials, you will become a world-class editor.”
Let me tell you who you are already. You are already a world-class editor. This is your true identity. Now, live and work based on who you really are. Yes, you will still make mistakes but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a world-class editor. The more you believe and remember this is who you are, the more your thinking and actions will align based on your self-belief.