Take a moment to think of all the things that you’re most proud of in your life.

For some that might mean professional qualifications from NVQs or SVQs to diplomas, degrees and even PhDs. Others will think of less formal achievements like charitable endeavours or learning to play a musical instrument. Perhaps you’re good at a particular sport or maybe you’re proud of overcoming your fear of heights and going on a parachute jump. It takes a particular form of courage to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane several thousand feet above the ground. A friend of mine recently climbed Kilimanjaro. He’s rightfully proud of that.

What have you achieved?

The fact that you’re able to watch this video at all means that you’ve achieved something that most humans throughout history never managed to do. You have learned to use a computer!

Whatever you’re thinking about the chances are that the things you’re most proud of didn’t come easily. They took effort. They took mistakes.

Thomas Eddison reputedly failed thousands of times before he successfully invented the light bulb. His attitude to these mistakes was interesting. He didn’t see them as failures. He saw them as learning opportunities. He saw them as milestones along the road to success.

Every time he built a bulb that wouldn’t light up he learned a little bit more about how not to make a light bulb. Inevitably all that knowledge, all that trial and error eventually led him to find the right way to generate light.

Eddison learned from his mistakes just as you have learned from yours. Writing the first assignment you submitted in that college course, your first fumbling attempts at making music, the first time you tried to hit a cricket ball or ride a horse you made mistakes. Over time you learned from these mistakes and you did better.

That’s as true for you as it is for your service users. They make mistakes too. And when those mistakes are handled correctly they learn from them – just like you do.

So the next time your service user gets something wrong or fails to meet expectations don’t assume they’re incapable. Help them to grow because of that mistake, not in spite of it. It’s a vital part of learning new skills and new ways of coping.

We all make mistakes and it takes time to learn a new skill. But that’s only half the story. Even with practice people rarely achieve perfection. It’s true that we might perform faultlessly some of the time but even the best of us gets things wrong on occasion. For most of us it’s a very regular occurrence no matter how much we’ve practiced. We all have ‘off days’ and we all make mistakes.

“Nobody’s perfect” as the saying goes.

But whilst it’s easy to excuse ourselves for the regular little errors that make up every day of our lives many workers in health and social care have difficulty extending the same understanding and forgiveness to service users. The next time you go into work take a random batch of care or support case files and look at the care plans inside. See how many of them have been discontinued as ‘unattainable’ after only one or two attempts. Notice also how many have objectives set far too low because of an assumption that since the service user didn’t get it right every time they cannot be expected to attain meaningful goals.

Then apply the same logic to your own life.

Would you find your own support plans discontinued if the same stringent demands were applied to your….

  • Sobriety
  • Spending and budget management
  • Anger management
  • Compliance with medication regimes as ‘self-administrator of meds’
  • Smoking cessation (how many times did the ex smokers you know try and fail to stop before they succeeded?)

The fact that you screw up from time to time doesn’t make you a failure. It merely makes you human and fallible. We all make mistakes but that doesn’t mean we are incapable of doing well too.

Remember that there is no us and them. If we allow ourselves to be less than perfect then we must also allow the same freedom to be fallible for our service users.

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