How to know when you are wrong

Emily with face mask

Emily with face mask
Yesterday was rough. It started with an anxious conversation in my own head about whether the Surgeon General was lying to us about the effectiveness of face masks.

Did the shortage of medical grade face masks justify lying about their effectiveness?

That was enough stress before 8 AM to get me amped up for the day.

I decided to wear a face mask to bring groceries to my elderly mother. A real-deal, medical grade, anti-viral, properly worn face mask.

If you know me, then you’re not surprised to hear I have a couple of these stowed away in my linen closet for air travel during cold and flu season.
So, there I am, at the grocery store checkout. Looking stupid. Face mask and all. A fellow shopper, also wearing a face mask, commented,
“People are giving us strange looks.”

I responded with, “I really don’t care.”

“I guess I don’t either!” he said.

I wanted to bag my mom’s groceries myself. I figured the fewer hands on her groceries the better.

I told the bagger not to bag my groceries.

He didn’t listen.

Even after I repeated myself and raised my voice, he didn’t listen.

I stretched my arms out over the bagging area–grabbing my groceries in an effort to keep them away from him.

He still didn’t listen.

I shouted at him,

“Stop! Stop bagging my groceries!”

Heads turned.

At this point, the cashier intervened.

He gently put both of his hands on the bagger’s arms, looked him in the eyes, and told him to stop. The cashier then looked at me and said,

“He’s deaf. And, you’re rude.”

My jaw dropped behind my mask. I felt ashamed and angry at the same time. I felt publicly humiliated by the cashier and I wanted to justify my behavior.

After all, I didn’t know he was deaf!

As I walked through the parking lot to my car, I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I just let this coronavirus shit show get to me. Is this how I’m gonna be? On edge and freaking out?”

Well, yes. Sometimes.

I’m not exempt from the effects of fear and anxiety. This is how I act when I’m afraid. I go on the defensive.

I didn’t know.

I was afraid.

I was wrong.

I want to remember that I can be wrong.

I’ve learned that people are generous with their forgiveness when I show even just an ounce of humility.

When I admit to my faults, the grace of other people comes through. They forgive me. Then, I can eventually forgive myself.

I learned humility for the millionth time in my life in that checkout line. Humility comes in handy in my role as agency owner and CEO, too.

It’s not easy to own up to mistakes or even carefully listen to a different opinion.
At work, it’s easier to dig in my heels.

I get defensive because:

  • The employee I hired six months ago doesn’t know my business the way I know my business.
  • They haven’t invested the way I’ve invested.
  • It’s my neck on the line.
  • I’m the one currently applying for a disaster relief loan.

These aren’t even things I consciously think. They’re subtle attitudes that creep in.

When I’ve had a tough day or I’m tired, (or I’m terrified because of an international catastrophe), these attitudes can sneak in under my radar. I become less open to the possibility that my team might be right and I might be wrong.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes with my team and with my clients, too.

The sooner I realize my mistake, the sooner I can own up to it, apologize for it, and fix it.

But, if I don’t know I’m wrong, I can’t change my course.

How do I know when I’m wrong?

I need people to tell me.

But for them to feel comfortable telling me I’m wrong, I need to make it safe for them. It’s my responsibility to welcome feedback and criticism.

It helps with the fear to remember all my past experiences with making mistakes. Being wrong isn’t the end of the world.

I launched an online training course earlier this week. I couldn’t have done it that quickly or that effectively without the help and ideas of other people on my team.

When I’ve opened myself up to criticism and to different opinions, I’ve been able to make confident decisions about practical matters. Confident decision-making is especially valuable to me in a climate of anxiety and indecision.

Welcome to WebDev Success. I’m Emily Journey and this podcast is where I take a hard look at the challenges facing the website development industry. Learn how to attract loyal customers, how to raise your prices with confidence, and take steps to craft the work life you’ve always wanted. Subscribe, listen in and develop brilliantly.

Join the discussion

  • Good for you Emily You’ve always been one of my favorite people. You have such a way with words. Thank you for enlightening me I’ve been beating myself up lately. I think everybody’s on edge because of this epidemic. I appreciate what you said

  • Hi Emily. I don’t think you were wrong. It is nice to recognize when one is wrong and be approachable so that others can share their views and opinions. However, in the case that you stated it would behoove the cashier to have stepped in as a company representative and kindly provided you with the information about the bagger. The person who was in appropriate was the cashier who acting as the face of the company made a statement that was offensive to a customer in a public setting. Peace

    • Hi Ralph. Thanks for your comment. I figure the cashier’s behavior didn’t really justify mine. I wasn’t the best version of myself… as you can see from the old mascara under my eyes in that photo!

  • I just love you. Truly what I needed to read right now. I am pretty sure the information that was put out there regarding masks not being necessary except for those with the virus was a ruse to keep the whole world from hoarding the precious few N95 that we had at the beginning of all of this.

    And PS…the website you ultimately build for me might be completely different than what we originally determined…I too am filling out a lot of bank paperwork…..

    Sis,……I’ll see you on the other side of Covid-19.

  • Admitting when we’re wrong is tough- it goes against our Ego. But our ego only wants to protect itself, and keeps us from being truly human. Don’t beat yourself up too much. I yelled at my dog today, for barking during my Zoom meditation session. But she was barking to let me know about people in my hallway. She was being a good dog. And I was being anxious and rude. I told her I was sorry. It’s all I can do.

    • Ah! Thank you for the reminder to meditate! 😉
      Yes, we all have our moments and self-forgiveness is the hardest type of forgiveness.
      For me, I need to talk about it. Then, give it time.

  • Oh my I LOVE this… the vulnerability and humility, the awakening now and not years down the road after being ‘rude’ and yet human. The deaf employee needs a name badge so that customers understand his help- helpful or not so they can address it. Love the story in making a point and caring that others like me consider our integrity, behaviors, and character in a stressful time. Elbow bump!

    • Thank you for commenting, Renee! The selfie you sent to me with your face mask is awesome. Made my week. 🙂
      It’s reassuring to know I’m really not alone in this mess.
      Probably the best thing I can do right now is just be there for others and remind them that they’re not alone!
      That’s a big part of my motivation for writing this piece.

  • I think you tried your best, given the situation. When the cashier heard your request and then pleas, he should have supported you and gestured or signed to him to stop.
    Hang in there!

  • Loved reading this. So helpful to get reminders that we are all the same, perfectly imperfect. I have never been this hightened in my life and haven’t gone to the physical store in weeks because if they don’t have what I came for I fear I may shut down, fall to the floor, curl up and cry. Times are so stressful and I really appreciate yr story.

  • Agree with Brad – actually feel the cashier
    had an obligation to intervene given that he had knowledge of the disability – had he done so the entire episode would not have escalated – you can’t know what you don’t know – you did your best Emily – Bravo for helping your Mother !

    • Well, it all happened so fast it’s hard to judge. We’re all reacting to stress. I’m pretty sure everyone working cashier lines is really stressed out.

  • Truly a great story, Emily because it is so real. I have to agree that the cashier might have intervened earlier, but as you said who knows what stress he was under. Could be the person 3 people before you was hacking and coughing and his mind was still on that. This is such a strange time and since non of us have gone through it before I don’t think any of us can know the best thing to say or do. We gotta just do the best we can and think everyone else is doing that too!

Further reading

Web developer working at table

Hi, I’m Emily Journey. I founded and lead a website consulting agency with six coworkers. This blog is where I write about the things I’ve learned at my real job.
I respond to your comments at the bottom of my posts. Subscribe to get my weekly email.