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What A Pizza Disaster Can Teach Us About Mistakes

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Life tends to serve me up metaphors at every turn – and the last day of 2021 gave me a fantastic object lesson in my attitude towards mistakes.

The Great Pizza Disaster of 2021

My lovely partner bought me a pizza stone for Christmas. I already had one, but wanted another so we could cook two pizzas at once – mealtimes involving pizza can get busy in our household!

We had our friends K & J over for New Years Eve, and it was the perfect opportunity to break out the new stone. Everything was going swimmingly, until I put K & J’s pizza on the new stone. I used baking paper because the pizza dough was softer and stickier than I expected.

I didn’t notice that the oven rack was on a tilt… until the pizza and paper started sliding off the stone and onto the oven door – one of my bigger cooking mistakes in recent memory! K was with me in the kitchen, and she started laughing while I scrambled to rescue the pizza. 

I managed to get it up on the bench, in a much-less tidy state than it had been 30 seconds earlier. There was no way to get the toppings back in place, there was no more pizza dough, and one pizza wasn’t going to be enough for four people.

So, calling on the spirit of one of the most-frequently-used terms since the pandemic began, I decided to “pivot”, and make the pizza into calzone (check out this recipe if you want to make one of your own – it’s totally worth it!).

Making your mistakes into your next successes

While K & J’s pizza was a distant memory, the result of the Great Pizza Disaster of 2021 was a delicious calzone. Not what any of us had expected, but it disappeared just as fast (and was just as delicious) as the other pizza. So it was a clear success, even if not what we had anticipated.

And that for me was the object lesson – you can’t un-make a mistake, but you can turn your mistakes into successes, with the right attitude. 

It all hinges on your attitude

In the last few years, I’ve been learning how to practice self-compassion – being as kind and caring to myself as I am to others. (Check out Dr Kristin Neff‘s work in this space). And it’s been a game-changer in many areas of my life, including how I respond to mistakes, and forms part of my self-care plan

A previous version of me would have grumped and moaned about how the pizza was ruined. And I would have beaten myself up for days about not foreseeing (and preventing) the pizza disaster. After all, I cook in that oven regularly, and I know that rack has a lean on it. In fact, I’ve nearly lost a casserole dish in the same manner. I also would have felt embarrassed that I’d promised K & J pizza, but my mistake meant they got something different.

But the current version of me, bolstered by self-compassion, can look at mistakes as demonstrations of my humanity, not a verdict on my character, intelligence, or competence. 

So, when the pizza gracefully dismounted the pizza stone onto the oven door, I focused on making it into the next best thing, rather than beating myself up for my mistake. This was the three principles of self-compassion in action: mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity or connectedness.

Of course, it helped having K dissolving into giggles as I scooped the pizza up off the oven door – she is one of the most compassionate people I know, so I knew there wouldn’t be any judgement from her!

A graphic of the three elements of self-compassion: mindfulness, self-kindness, and connectedness

From mistakes to next best things

Everyone makes mistakes. There’s no getting around that – the only person who doesn’t make a mistake is the one whose funeral you are attending.

And you can’t un-make mistakes. When the pizza crumples onto the oven door, or you spill red wine on the carpet, or you send a snarky email to the wrong person, there’s no time-machine to help you go back and have a take-two.

So, you’re left with two options: stay stuck as you beat yourself up about the mistake, or move forward towards the next best thing. Turn the pizza into calzone. Mop up the wine, sprinkle it with salt, and figure out it’s better to leave your wine glass on the table than the floor. As soon as possible, call or go and see the email recipient, own what you did, apologise, and trust that your integrity will carry you through.

From languishing to learning

There’s an adage in customer service that the customers who are the biggest fans of your brand are not the ones who have never had trouble, but the ones who had a problem that you owned, apologised for, then resolved quickly and well (and prevented from happening again).

Most customers don’t want to hear you wallowing in self-recrimination about the problem. “Oh, we’re such a terrible, heartless organisation for misplacing your order. I can’t believe we’re so slack. We really let you down. You must think we are complete idiots – actually, we ARE complete idiots. We’re just so unthinking and careless. I would totally understand if you would never want to do business with us again”. 

Can you even imagine? All that talk doesn’t move the situation forward. Most customers want a sincere (and brief!) apology, then quick action to put it right. Why wouldn’t you take that attitude for yourself?

Mistakes happen. Your attitude towards them is the difference between languishing and learning.

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