You Screwed up Big-time, Now What Do You Do?

You’ve probably heard that sometimes life gets “messy.” In spite of your best intentions and preparations, sometimes things don’t work out. But this time you screwed up so big you don’t know where to start to recover. It doesn’t matter what the screw-up is—you have some choices to make and actions to initiate if you are going to move on.

Clean up the mess

Deal with the immediate problem(s) that was created by the screw-up. “Stop the bleeding” whether that is physical, emotional, mechanical, or financial. You may need to apply a bandage or take yourself or someone else to the emergency room. If you broke or damaged something, you might need to fix or replace it. Perhaps you have money to pay back. Maybe, you have a relationship to repair and hurt feelings to soothe. Whatever, the immediate need, do that first as much as possible at the time.


When the dust settles, take a moment or more to reflect on what happened. Do a step-by-step assessment of the situation. What was the objective? Was there a plan or were you “flying by the seat of your pants?” Where did it go wrong?

Take responsibility

You can accept responsibility for the screw-up, or you can blame it on someone else or the circumstances. Blame is the coward’s way out and prevents you from either remedying the situation or learning from it. The blame game is not a game you can win. (The New Yorker has a tongue-in-cheek article that makes the point and gives you some fun reading.) Taking responsibility puts you back in control and lets you approach the problem more objectively. If other people are involved, it is up to them to take their share of responsibility. There is no need for you to point your finger at them.

Do damage control

Fix as much as you can. Restore, replace, amend, apologize—make your best effort to undo the damage that was done.  Only you know what your best effort is. Others may not think it’s enough, but you can only do your own personal best.

Find the Lesson

What’s the lesson here? You can learn from it, or you can be in denial and refuse to consider that there is something to know that may help you in future similar situations. The lesson may be a simple one like “Think before you speak” or “Don’t assume that someone else understands.” It may be more complex. But knowing the plan went wrong is fundamental for preventing a reoccurrence.


You may need to ask forgiveness if you have offended another person or in some way caused them harm. It is their responsibility to forgive. If they won’t forgive, it becomes their problem.

It is equally important that you forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness is not always easy. Remember that we make the best decision and take the best action we can with the information, skills, and wisdom we have at that moment. After the fact, we know much more and would most likely do it differently. You know the old saying that hindsight is 20-20. Without learning the lesson and forgiving yourself, you can’t move forward

Self-forgiveness means you don’t have to keep beating yourself up. It’s over. You’ve  taken responsibility, made amends or restoration,  forgiven yourself and asked forgiveness, and you’ve learned from your screw-up.

Now let it go. Get back out there where the action is. There will be no pity parties today.





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