Mistakes were made.

I was thinking about the nature of mistakes today.

Working in payroll is to work in a field of quantifiable, black-and-white goals. The work is tedious and detail oriented, but not difficult. If I’m cutting a check, I either get the numbers right or I don’t. I like to take pride in my work and I make an effort to be rigorous, and I think I’m good at it, but sometimes I make mistakes. Sometimes I mistype a code or a batch number. Sometimes I withhold the wrong amount for a garnishment. Sometimes the numbers don’t match up and I don’t catch it.

Most of my mistakes are due to inattention; some are due to oversight, a few are actual miscalculations, and once in a great while I’ll get something wrong because it was wrong in the system. In my mind, I have a kind of sliding scale for the magnitude of a mistake. The smallest mistakes are ones that I can fix myself: a typo in an employee profile, the wrong template on a kit fee, the wrong code on an accounts receivable form. I notice the mistake, I can fix it: easy-peasy.

The next largest mistake is a mistake that I make that someone else has to fix: changing a code on a check, or revising a batch number, etc. These are usually pretty minor too, but they inconvenience someone else while they go into the system to fix it for me. And sometimes it’s just one check that needs to be fixed while other times it’s a whole payroll, which can be dozens of checks. So sometimes it’s a small inconvenience and sometimes it’s a major pain to fix, but usually the mistake takes the same amount of time to make.

The third tier of mistake is one where the check has to be voided. This involves going to one of the administrators and admitting to the mistake so they can cancel out my work and I can do it over again. But it means interrupting a boss, and having to start over again so it’s both an embarrassment and a pain and a record of it shows up on the reports. VOID.VOID.VOID.

And this makes me think of real life.

I mean, I’m only human: I make mistakes. As usually they’re because of inattention or oversight or miscalculation or sometimes even ignorance, but I don’t make them on purpose. And I don’t always know I’m making one. And I don’t always know who I’m going to be inconveniencing when I need to ask for help in setting things right.

What I really need to learn is how to take my mistakes in life with the same equanimity that I usually take payroll mistakes: a beleaguered sigh, a rolling of eyes, a polite apology. I think probably if we all learned to tolerate mistakes better that people would feel more comfortable admitting when they make them, as they can get fixed while they’re still small and not a line of VOID on the transcript of our lives.

Practice, I guess.


~ by Gwydhar Gebien on February 1, 2019.

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