Nobody's perfect and we all make mistakes, but no one wants to mess up at work. Oh, the embarrassment! We strive and thrive to impress our co-workers and upper management at all turns, so missing the ball at the workplace always seems to hurt a little more than fouling things up in private or in some other scenario.

Unless you've got superpowers or you're extremely lucky, the day will come, if it hasn't already, when you will screw up at work. You may feel like you'll never live it down or make it over the hump, but you can… and will. You just need to embrace the "mess up" and use your wrong turns in order to navigate your way back down the road to success.

1. Take Ownership

You must acknowledge what went down and what your role in the mess up was. Beating around the bush, trying to pin the blame on others, or pretending nothing happened will only make things worse. Admit what has happened so you can move forward.

According to U.S. News & World Report, "How you take responsibility for what happened will be one of the biggest elements in the impression it leaves on people."

While your co-workers and boss may feel aggravated or disappointed about what went wrong, they will appreciate your willingness to take ownership for your role in the failure and your honesty about the situation. Apologize if the situation calls for it, and get back on your feet to get on track again.

2. Don't Freak Out

Now is not the time to panic. Keep the situation in perspective. You didn't kill anyone (hopefully). Where there's a will, there's a way, and you will be able to get yourself out of whatever conundrum you've created. Stay cool and calm in order to work your way out of this hole and into a brighter spot.

As The Muse notes, "It can be difficult to maintain a sense of perspective when you're upset with yourself, but try to make sure your emotional response is proportional to the blunder you made." And U.S. News & World Report adds, "It's important to put this behind you mentally, because dwelling on it will often keep you in a tense mental space where you're more likely to mess up again – the opposite of what you want."

There's little to no chance you'll get fired over an honest mistake, particularly if you've been a good worker up until this point. Stay in control to show you've realized your error and know that there's a way to fix it. Freaking out will exacerbate the problem and give off the vibe that you don't know what you're doing.

3. Figure Out What Went Wrong

Why did this mess up come to be? Obviously it wasn't intended, so part of the recovery is to make sure you retrace your steps so nothing like this happens again. You can't brush the issue under the rug or else you'll never be able to solve the problem.

As per LifeHacker, "Take a deep breath and reflect. What can you learn from your mistake? If you forgot to do something, you know you need a better way to remind yourself of your tasks. If you did something incorrectly, you know you need to follow instructions better or ask for help when you need it."

With this examination, you can make a new plan to correct the issue or do things differently and better the next time around. Forgive yourself and learn from this mistake. As The Muse suggests, "For extra measure, if you feel that it would be beneficial to tell your boss about how you're going to prevent mistakes in the future, do that, too."

Mess ups can be meaningful if you process them properly and use them as learning tools. Have you royally messed up at work and found a way to climb out of it successfully? Please share your tips with other PayPath readers.

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Toni Morrison has an anecdote about her first ever job, which was cleaning some neighborhood woman’s house. The young Toni arrived home after work one day and expressed her troubles to her father. But he didn’t provide the sympathy she expected. Instead, he gave her something better — his advice:

“Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

Years later, she wrote about this remarkable experience for the New Yorker and said, in hindsight, this is what she learned:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you

3. Your real life is with us, your family

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are

What Morrison so eloquently articulated was setting boundaries. I revisited this piece during the pandemic when working from home ramped up in earnest. Back when work was one of the few things that anchored my day.

Without a physical office, the pandemic shattered the work/life balance for many people. There was no more of that physical separation that Morrison talked about. There is no coming home from work physically. There is no real life to come back to — just a manufactured commute to your laptop in your makeshift home office.

But, par for the course, Gen Z are navigating this boundaryless era using TikTok. While internet gurus promote hustle culture and constant online availability since you’re not getting face time with your managers, there’s a trend in town — “quiet quitting.”


@zaidleppelin On quiet quitting #workreform ♬ original sound - ruby


The trend arose from the depths of the pandemic. Layoffs, salary cuts, and furloughs proved that their employers did not care about their hard-working employees.

The Washington Post dubs quiet quitting as a fresh trem for an old phenomenon: employee disengagement. In many cases, it’s a response to burnout. For much of Gen Z, it’s a way of establishing healthy boundaries in the office and resisting the pressure of the rat race. After all, why work yourself to the bone for a company that just proved it’s ready and willing to let you go?

Despite the term’s negative connotations, Quiet Quitting can provide an empowering shift in thinking for employees.

For far too long, employees have been indoctrinated with a slew of toxic workplace advice. Faced with these old misconceptions and lacking job security or clear paths for advancement, Gen Z is untethering their identities from work.

Quiet quitting — therefore — might be a bit of a misnomer. These employers aren’t completely disengaged. They’re certainly not launching Flight Club-esque sabotage attempts on their employers. NO. Contrary to media panic, Gen Z understands the value of a job — the fickle market they entered ensured that. But they also understand the value of life.

They’re doing what they’re being paid for. Nothing more, nothing less.

According to Chief, a private membership network focused on connecting and supporting women executive leaders, older generations should learn from this approach.

“Gen Z has already endured the largest seismic shifts to the career landscape than any previous generation, having started their careers in the middle of a pandemic that changed office culture forever and a gig economy that makes piecing together work more viable. They’re taking both those realities and therefore demanding more autonomy and flexibility than any other generation.”

Gen Z are less attached to job titles and statuses. They’re more concerned about their lives. Sure, this can lead to problematic outlooks on money and experiences — see the “I can earn my money back” TikTok trend. But it’s better than hustling for no reward. Besides, as some Gen Z-ers put it on TikTok, the office isn’t even a vibe.

“With the ability to work from anywhere and for more than just one place, Gen Z-ers are forging their own paths that don’t rely on old patterns set by previous generations and are redefining what “career success” looks like. Gen Z can take note, as more and more leaders are similarly pursuing multiple income streams of their own through the form of a portfolio career. The way in which work looks like and where it happens is evolving.”

With less single-minded focus on one job, some TikTok business gurus advocate shutting your laptops precisely at 5 pm. And then jump onto your side hustle. Do nails or lashes on the weekend. Become social media managers for your phone. Sell soap on Etsy (again … perhaps not in the Fight Club way).

But this valorization of side hustles is not about hustle culture, either. They say job security isn’t guaranteed. Learning new skills and develop an alternate income stream/s to keep you afloat. Just make sure you’re not left in the lurch. BTW inflation is here. So every little bit helps.

But where do you start? Watching TikToks can only get you so far. Try a course on LinkedIn Learning to sharpen up your skills and learn new ones that you can turn into a verifiable side hustle — or leverage in your job search if quiet quitting leads to … real quitting.

Learn on your own time with bite-sized videos or in-depth courses. Watch them after work, before you clock in, or on your lunch break. Then, after your courses are complete, you’ll have certificates prominently displayed on your profile that prove your skills.