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Big Mistakes and How I Cope with Them

Screwing up at work.

I fucked up at work today. A bug in my program left 30,000 people without the right kind of access to our web server. It was not as large a problem as it sounds, but it was my fault, with no blame to share.

I have a reflex that kicks when entropy rises--a few stupid platitudes, of the "it could be worse" type rise to replace my confusion. It could be worse: I could be 15 again, kicked out of the house, or it could be only three years ago and I might have a yearly income of $6000. When these personal memories of tougher times don't calm me, I recite the laundry list of atrocities--Nazis, starvation, no education, no mind to educate, physical disability--that never came to rest upon me. Nothing gets better but I stop moping and return to the issue at hand.

So I apologized, got up to how lucky I was not to be homeless, calmed down, and we resolved the error in a few hours. I needed to compare long lists of names to make sure texts matched, much like the time in high school when the student magazine I edited published an article that vaguely insulted Mr. Homele, unloved vice-principal. As penance, I crossed out 6400 occurrences of his name with black marker, two per issue. Because the same English teacher ran the magazine and the cheerleading squad, a dozen cheerleaders helped as censors. We sat around a table and they eyed me suspiciously. Later, the English teacher told me she loved me deeply.

The error today was not near so bad as any of that, mostly because I don't have enough power to screw things up--there are some checks built into the system--and because no one can put me in detention anymore. It was an honest error, on the side of trying to do to much than not enough, and no one criticized. Given the news, one of my supervisors said, "Oh, no, oh God. You didn't." But then they said "don't feel bad," and patted me on the shoulder. I won't need to resign in shame, which I felt a strong urge to do when the problem surfaced, partly from embarrassment, partly from laziness towards dealing with a difficulty I created. But doggedness and dedication win over laziness, and I possess small packets of each, so I'll continue to labor with my wrists, fingers, and darting eyes, rolling in my rolling chair and drawing my paycheck. All remains well.

An eventful week.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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