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Lessons From An Oscar Oops

4 smart ways to handle a very dumb mistake

Beatty and Kimmel at the 2017 Oscars

ABC via Getty Images

A mistake doesn’t have to define you. It can actually help you grow.

It was the error heard ‘round the world. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the wrong winner of Best Picture on Sunday night, resulting in one of the most stunning and uncomfortable moments in Oscar history. But it wasn’t the actors’ fault. The two had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope, a flub PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm in charge of tabulating votes, quickly took the blame for.


So what do you do when you screw up? Panic? Shirk responsibility? Hide under a rock? Everyone makes mistakes. Here are four ways to handle them and move on.

1. Own it and apologize

Eating a bit of humble pie is better than acting indifferent, which implies you don’t even care. An apology may not get you out of hot water completely, but a sincere one usually earns you a bit of respect. And don’t make your apology all about yourself. (“I didn’t mean to …” or “I was just trying to …”) That’s what John Travolta did when he mispronounced Idina Menzel’s name at the 2014 Oscars. “I’ve been beating myself up all day,” he said. Instead, focus on how your mistake affected the other party.

2. Make the best of it

The 14,500-ton Leaning Tower of Pisa was not designed to lean. But this 12th-century miscalculation has turned into a gold mine, with thousands of tourists visiting the spot every year, to do “the pose.” If you’ve dropped the ball, figure out a solution. A mistake doesn’t have to define you. It can actually help you grow.

3. Ask for help, don’t blame others, and fix it

Don’t be a “quiet fixer.” Seek help so that you can repair any harm done. No one wants to flail around trying to repair something they don’t understand. That will only make things worse. Reach out to someone you trust. When Steve Harvey announced the wrong winner of the Miss Universe pageant, he didn’t blame others. He immediately took full responsibility. Showing humility was the best thing he could have done.

4. Learn from it

Fortunately, people have short memories. When you make a mistake, don’t dwell on it. Learn from it. Mistakes are the unavoidable steppingstones along the path of life. They can be a valuable reality check that can teach you what works and what doesn’t. Don’t let a mistake stop you from going for a second or third chance. After all, when Rhett Butler walked away from Scarlett O’Hara at the end of the classic film “Gone With the Wind,” she didn’t bemoan the error of her ways. She plotted the best way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.

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