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Mistakes and MS. DEMEANOR by Elinor Lipman

Jane was a successful partner at her law firm until a nosy neighbor caught her having sex on her rooftop patio and called the police. The state files charges against Jane and her paramour, and he gets off with a warning. Meanwhile, Jane is sentenced to six months of home confinement, has her bar license suspended, and loses her job. The consequences hardly fit the crime and reek of sexism.

Jane enters home confinement understandably mad at the world over this miscarriage of justice and is lucky enough to be handed tons of support. Her twin sister recognizes Jane's tight spot and steps in to pay most of her expenses. Another resident in the building, who is also serving time at home, attempts to find creative ways to spend time together. And a new friend offers her lighthearted companionship.

Jane responds to these supports with anger, coldness, and sometimes manipulation. She doesn’t mean to push people away, but she makes mistakes, and then, rather than identifying and repairing these relationships, she plays the victim and moves on.

From the moment Jane enters home confinement through the end of the book, she makes one mistake after another and never acknowledges or takes responsibility for her actions. Many people struggle to own their mistakes, especially if they grew up in environments where mistakes weren’t tolerated or were responded to with shame, blame, or guilt. But, research shows us that facing mistakes with a growth mindset can be empowering and promote longevity in personal and professional relationships.

Here are tips on how to take responsibility for mistakes:

  • Separate your core identity from your errors. In other words, notice your consistent positive traits while also acknowledging moments when you behave in ways that deviate from your norm and do not define who you are.

  • Consistently reflect on your behaviors. When you recognize a mistake, assess whether it impacts you alone or others. If it effects you alone, problem-solve.

  • If your slip-up involves others, seek them out and apologize. Talk with them about what you could do differently in the future and see it as a learning experience. If you authentically treat it as a mistake that is incongruent with the person you strive to be, then the other person likely will as well.

  • When others misstep, provide leadership by engaging in conversations that avoid shaming in favor of learning and seeking to forgive.

If Jane had taken these steps, she may have experienced more fulfilling relationships with others and felt more empowered and in control of her life.


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