As I’ve settled into my second month at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, I’m almost done experiencing real growing pains of starting a new job. And, of course, the uncomfortable and inevitable truth that no one ever really wants to be reminded of: everyone makes mistakes.
The other week, issuing emergency passports in American Citizen Services (ACS) got put on hold due to what I swear was a system error (I can guarantee that I was triple-checking my numbers), but unfortunately appeared completely as my own personal error. If it was my error, I take full ownership of that; though I should have stopped and asked when something didn’t look right, our complete lack of any training program regarding the way our systems or sections operate left me with no idea that something didn’t look right in the first place. I’ve concluded it goes both ways: they need a better training program, and I need to get over the fact that sometimes I have difficulty asking questions. Regardless of where wrong was committed, I begrudgingly must accept it: I made a mistake somewhere in the process.
As if that situation wasn’t hard enough to move on from, two weeks later, an emergency passport application that I had filed mysteriously went missing after an unusual and rather chaotic morning, filled with technical difficulties and unorthodox cases. No one in the office could find the file. These files must be closely accounted for, and are eventually sent back to Washington, D.C. for administrative purposes; I had also forgotten to put the all-important bar code on the application when I had printed the individual’s emergency passport, so I was once again on-the-outs with my supervisor (or at least I thought so). I searched maddeningly for the application along with everyone else in the office, to no avail. I decided to call it quits on the search for the day, hoping that somehow my supervisor would forgive me a second time, and not begin to seriously doubt my competency, or worse, why she hired me in the first place.
When I came in the next day, my supervisor had decided to move me out into the waiting room as a greeter for the rest of the week to make sure applicants had everything they needed when they came in. Though they had been talking for awhile about having a greeter do this, I couldn’t help but feel like this was some sort of punishment, and I was consumed with the fear that I was no longer trusted to handle files that needed to be so closely accounted-for. Nonetheless, I decided to make the best of the situation, meeting each individual who came in with a smile and cheerful greeting. Half of the people we see in ACS don’t want to be there – they’ve suddenly lost their passport or had it stolen – and so I took it upon myself to improve their days as much as possible and help them with what they need, something I love to do. I ended up having some pretty interesting conversations with applicants, which made all of us a little less tired and bored. I got to directly and immediately see the change I was making in people’s lives by serving them in American Citizen Services, and I found that incredibly rewarding. Whether my time out in the waiting room that week was a punishment or not, I did what I do best – I helped people, and did everything I could to make their lives a little happier.
When I came back into the office after that first morning in the waiting room, within minutes of searching for the lost application in the filing cabinet it was supposed to be in, I found it tucked between two files in the folder behind where it should have been! It has apparently happened to everyone in the office before. As I handed the file to my officer, she said she actually wanted to hold onto it, because she realized she had issued the emergency passport for the wrong duration of time. If I hadn’t accidentally filed the application slightly out of place, she wouldn’t have caught that mistake! I guess everything happens for a reason. All things considered, I was brought back into the office for morning data entry like normal after that week, and I haven’t made an almost-fatal error since. Moral of the story? Haste makes waste!
After all this, I’ll be the first one to admit that I have a habit of beating myself up to no end when I’ve made a mistake. I have to remember through this learning experience that everyone makes honest mistakes. I still have time to show my section officer that I really am dedicated to doing my best here. I want my current supervisor and any in the future to know that I pride myself in my attention to detail and that these mistakes are not common for me, but I am human, of course, just like everyone else. Whenever I do make a mistake in the future, I know now that all I can do is take responsibility, keep a good attitude, and do my best moving forward.
We all make mistakes. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference.