Maybe It’s Time to Normalise Mistakes

Hey, everyone — it’s me again! Yes, I’m back with another article and no, don’t worry, it’s unrelated to university. This time, we’re going to talk about a topic that is a little more personal: human error (i.e., making mistakes).

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. Whenever I mention this to friends or family or anyone who knows me personally, there’s often this look of doubt or scepticism. A lot of people may look at me and think: You? Mistake? Yeah right. And even if you did mess up, it’s a rare occurrence, and it’s not going to be too bad.

I think it’s because of my usual work ethic and inclination towards studying.

Yes, I work hard and yes, I can (to some degree) do decently in my academics. But I am also human — I’ve done stupid things too. I’ve messed up, I’ve failed exams, I’ve been late to class. And so, I thought I would write this article to share and reflect on my mistakes, and to let everyone else know that it’s ok to mess up. It’s just a part of being human, and maybe, as a society, we can learn to be more forgiving towards general human error. I will share five personal and somewhat embarrassing mistakes I have made, and an overall reflection on them.

My Mistakes

I’ve made quite a few mistakes, but I picked a few that, at the time, really made me panic! I hope my experiences can help the rest of you — maybe you can feel better knowing that you didn’t do these things, or relate to my experience and share my panic. Either way, I think this helps break the mould and let everyone know that no one is infallible, least of all me.

Mistake 1: Being Careless During Jobs and Research

This one is not so much a one-time event, but rather a common theme that I have noticed about myself. When I have a lot going on, I can be rather careless when it comes to details. In fact, just today, I opened my inbox to see a message from the DERC (the ethics review for psychology research in NUS). I am attempting to get my research approved, and had submitted my application. They replied stating that the number of participants was inconsistent in section 4 and section 6. I had originally managed to change it, but I made a mistake during calculation and so my section 6’s numbers are still inconsistent.

This is also an issue during my internships — there were many times in MSF (the Ministry of Social and Family Development) where I had indicated the wrong date for a form, or had messed up data cleaning. During my internship last summer, I was in charge of cleaning a 30,000 data sheet in Excel. But there were some difficulties with the filtering function, and there would be issues whenever I sent the sheet to my colleagues. While we managed to find a solution in the end, it was definitely embarrassing for me and definitely did not leave a good impression on my professors and colleagues.

Mistake 2: Forgetting to Dress Appropriately to a Job

This one was also relatively recent. I recently applied for an ad-hoc job at MOE (the Ministry of Education), and we had a training session in the office. Unfortunately, it was during my semester, and I had forgotten how to dress in an office. I legitimately showed up in my typical university attire — i.e. shorts, a t-shirt, and sports shoes. Yeah, not the best first impression. Fortunately, it was my first day and they were pretty understanding — they were going through the dress code in the first meeting, so not much harm was done. But it was definitely not the best first impression I could have given, and I felt underdressed compared to the other interns. It wasn’t the worst mistake (i.e. I did not get fired), but trust me when I say that the embarrassment was real.

Mistake 3: Being Late to Class

This was definitely a panic moment for me. Now, I know what you’re all thinking: who cares if you’re five minutes late? Unfortunately, I’m not talking about a five-minute delay. I’m talking about an hour. Yes, I was that late. Even worse, this has happened at least twice in my university journey. There might be more instances, but the two most harrowing was my history tutorial and my seminar.

The history incident happened just last year — my tutorial started at 12pm, and I think my brain just failed to register the time properly. I don’t quite know what I was thinking, but I do know that I usually calculate the time beforehand so that I can take the BTC bus (for those who are unfamiliar, the BTC bus stops at Botanic Gardens and goes all the way to various faculties in NUS). I think I mixed up the timings in my head, and thought I could take the 12:20pm bus.

Whatever the reason, from my chat logs, I left my house at 11:50am. It was definitely a panic moment for me; I remember desperately calculating the cost of a Grab versus taking public transport, and in the end, I took a Grab. Even with that, I was around an hour late. It was also pretty bad because we were supposed to discuss and share with the class our conclusions regarding revolutions and how they were formed historically throughout China. We were given time to discuss this in class but, with me showing up late, I had a last-minute discussion before coming up with some random points (and I was heavily assisted by my group mate who was actually good at history). Even now I’m laughing at myself as I type this!

Of course, me being me, I did it again. This second incident happened just this semester, actually. It was my first day of seminar for my CLC2204 module (a CHS community development mod), and for some reason my brain once again failed to register the proper timing. I think I mistakenly saw the starting time as 2pm. To be fair, it is more common for modules to start then, so maybe that was why. But of course, with my BTC calculations, I left my house at around 12:50pm. I can’t find the exact time — I can’t remember the exact words I used, and I tried scrolling up in the chat log but my friend and I talked quite a bit. But I was definitely late — and thought I was perfectly fine until I was at Botanic Gardens MRT, and my friend called me and was like ‘where are you???’ (Context: we were both taking the seminar, and I had told her to help me reserve a seat).

I was definitely in panic mode, especially since by the time she called me it was around 10-20 minutes past 1pm. Since I was already at Botanics, I decided to just stick with it, so I took the MRT to Kent Ridge, hopped on the first bus to UTown, ran to my seminar room, and awkwardly entered. I think I was an hour late (maybe even more). Thankfully, it was the first session, and they were doing introductions, but walking in after being a whole hour late was definitely an experience.

Mistake 4: Being Unprepared for an Interview

This one was a tad bit embarrassing. Last summer, I had a job interview for a research position at MSF. I was having a relatively hectic semester (as usual), and it was a long day — I think I had 2 hours of tutorial followed by a 3-hour seminar. The job interview was scheduled immediately after my seminar, and it occurred around 5pm in the afternoon. It had been a while since I attended a job interview, and the last time I had an interview a year ago, my supervisor was rather informal about the process. So, when I went for the interview, I was very unprepared. My supervisors were asking me whether I had searched up the project I would be working on, and my legitimate answer was initially ‘no’. Additionally, at the end of the interview, they asked whether I had any questions for them and, once again, I said ‘no’. Both of these are typically very bad reflections: one of them shows that I’m unprepared, and the other shows a lack of interest.

Fortunately, my supervisor was kind enough to prompt me. Even after I said I had no questions, she asked, ‘are you sure?’ I think that question and the tone in her voice woke me up, and I realized I had messed up big time. So, I pulled myself together at the last second — I asked relevant questions, I searched up the project during the interview, and I managed to talk a little bit about the writing style and my own writing experiences. Fortunately, it was enough to save the interview and I managed to get the offer. But I should definitely have been more prepared for the whole thing.

Mistake 5: Missing an Interview

This one was bad — it could have resulted in the loss of my master’s application. For all of you who are confused, let me provide some context. In September, 2023, I was invited to apply for the concurrent degree programme at NUS (for those who do not know what the CDP programme is, you can see my previous article, but essentially it is a master’s program for NUS psychology students). I had been shortlisted for an interview, and was emailed by an Associate Professor in the psychology department.

She emailed me on January 12 and asked for a ‘brief chat’ (read: interview) ‘next Tuesday’, at 11:30am. Unfortunately, I only saw it on Sunday, 14 January, and took ‘next Tuesday’ to mean the 23rd, whereas my interviewer meant the 16th. So when I logged on to my inbox on 16 January at 11:58am, I found a message from her with the simple line: ‘Dear Tabitha, I’m on Zoom.’ I straight up panicked. I thought I was completely dead. Looking back at the email thread, I had sent two replies — the first one was likely a panic reply, apologizing for missing the call and asking for alternative timings. The second one was a more formal apology, explaining my overconfidence in not checking the date properly, and apologizing and explaining that it was an honest mistake.

Fortunately, the interviewer was understanding and was willing to schedule another time with me, and in the end, I was accepted into the CDP program. And while the outcome was (fortunately) good, it was definitely a huge panic moment in my life. I genuinely thought that my chances were gone, and that I would not be able to continue my application. It definitely did not put me in the best light, and it was likely one of my more unprofessional moments.

Overall Reflections

So as you can see, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. I’ve messed up. I’m not infallible, despite what anyone may think or say. I am only human, after all. And as much as I try to do my best, I can always mess up at any point in time. But what I’ve learnt along the way is that people genuinely understand that you made an honest mistake. If you really have tried your best, worked hard and are honest with your apology, people are usually willing to give you a second chance.

At the moment, I often feel anxious, stressed, nervous and extremely panicked. I send panic emails and texts as an apology, and hope that the other person forgives me. But what I’ve found, more often than not, is that people are willing to give you a second chance. They understand it was an honest mistake, and are willing to let you try again. They are also only human, and are also capable of getting the date wrong, or of being late. Everyone has these experiences, and it is only natural for everyone to mess up.

That’s a reminder I give to myself, too. I too need to remember that it is ok to mess up, and that the best thing to do is to calm yourself, give an honest apology, and move on. Accept that you’ve messed up — be honest, don’t try to hide it. Apologize to the people affected, and do your best to ensure that it does not happen again. Don’t keep dwelling on it though — that’s not healthy, and it does not get you anywhere. You can let yourself be upset and disappointed for messing up, but also learn to give yourself grace. You are only human, after all.

And that’s the end of my sharing! A little bit heavy today, I know, but I think it’s an important topic to reflect on. Anyways, hope you guys enjoyed learning a little bit more about me and my shenanigans, and looking forward to seeing you next time!

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