our mistakes don’t define us

I can’t believe it’s been almost four months since I started my first job out of college and how so much has changed in such a short period of time. In these past four months I have learned more about my industry and about myself, and I have made more mistakes than I thought humanly possible (or would like to admit).

To back up and put things in perspective – Mike and I visited DC for a spontaneous, let’s get out-of-here, weekend trip in March. We always joked about moving here and starting a new life for ourselves but it had never been anything more than talk. There was something about that trip. Everything just felt different. As we sat on a park bench in the National Mall sculpture garden, sharing an ice cream cone and enjoying the first signs of spring, I looked up at him and said, “why not?”

He must have been thinking the same, because his immediate response was, “we can.”

And we did. It wasn’t easy… as nothing worth it ever is. Trying to coordinate the search for two jobs and a new apartment all while three states away and finishing up my senior year in college made for its fair share of headaches and mental breakdowns, for which I still owe a great deal of gratitude to my friends and family for talking me off the ledge several times. But it all became worth it the moment I heard the words, “We’d like to offer you the job.”

So the day after my graduation, we packed up our lives into a 14’ UHaul and began our new chapter. I kissed my mom and dad goodbye, chowed down on some pizza and began the arduous task of assembling way too many pieces of IKEA furniture.

I started my job a week after my move and for the first week struggled with the idea of my new role. I was sitting through benefits trainings, submitting my insurance paperwork, attending meetings with my assigned campaigns and spending hours working on releases, media lists and follow-up pitch calls. I was overwhelmed and I was terrified. People with decades more experience than I had were looking at me to direct their PR strategies. Reporters from all over the world were calling me, asking questions I didn’t have the answers to.

Four months later, I’ve helped secure great coverage and generate unique story ideas for my campaigns by trusting my instincts and having confidence in my creativity. I have been fortunate to have stories placed in some of the largest outlets in the U.S. including the Washington Post and the LA Times. I’ve arranged press conferences and successfully landed editorial board meetings. I’ve accomplished things I never thought I’d be able to at such a young age, and I’m incredibly proud of myself.

With that, I have also made some painful mistakes. Mistakes that made me feel incompetent, incapable and quite frankly – just plain stupid. I’ve sent out a press release with a typo or two in it, and despite it going through several rounds of edits, the blame still ultimately falls on me. I called a reporter on the west coast at 6 AM (whoops… there’s a thing called time zones Niki, haven’t you heard of them) because I was eager to return her call from the night before to land the story and forgot to stop and think 1. It’s way too early over there and 2. It might be her personal number (oh yeah – it was. I called a reporter’s cell phone at 6 am and woke her up). I have sent things out before they should have gone out, blasting off a release to 700+ reporters when it should have been held for another 20 minutes due to an embargo.

After each mistake, I felt like a failure. I was beyond embarrassed. I wanted to bury my head between my legs and hide in my cave of shame (that’s what I call it… no judging). But I couldn’t – because I had work to do. And I didn’t have time to sulk (I’d give myself a 5 – 10 minute rebound period to get my act together and figure out how to fix it).

That release with a typo? I’d send out a correction. The reporter I woke up at the crack of dawn? I wrote her a sincere apology email and got a response back, telling me how much she appreciated my note (I was able to fix it and get the story put together in the end). The embargoed release? I called the reporter we promised to hold off for and explained the situation – he appreciated the notice and wrote a stellar story, still breaking the major announcement.

It is not our mistakes that define us; rather it is how we deal with them.

While at those moments it may have felt like the end of the world (and my professional career) I am grateful for each and every one of them. Those mistakes have made me  a better professional because I refuse to make the same mistakes twice.

I have grown immensely as a result of each mistake I have made and I am proud of every scar each mistake has left. You can’t become a seasoned professional or a better person without gaining a few battle wounds along the way.


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