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Making a Mistake Does Not Mean Your Career Is Over

Paul Taylor | Stone | Getty Images

"How would you like a job where, when you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and eighteen thousand people boo?" — Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender, Jacques Plante

Imagine your next performance review — they're booing.

Management thinks you screwed up, big-time, so they're taking away half your pay. And they've got a report describing your mistakes — it's over 100 pages.

That's what happened recently to JPMorgan Chase's star CEO, Jamie Dimon.

Mistakes. Who doesn't hate making them?

Recently, I emailed an invoice to the wrong person. Turned out to be my cousin (with a similar name as my client). She was dismayed. "I had no idea," she said, "that being related to you was so expensive."

After you screw up, it's easy to lose perspective — how big was your mistake, really? — like discovering at the end of the day, too late, a tiny piece of spinach caught between your teeth from lunch. It looks huge. And everyone must have noticed. Oh no!

But you're larger than your mistakes, larger than spinach. Most mistakes are not catastrophic.

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Jamie Dimon didn't think his mistake was catastrophic. "A tempest in a teapot," is how he first described it, before learning all the damage.

Unfortunately, his mistake was catastrophic. At least financially. JPMorgan lost $6 billion.

Why didn't the board fire him? Simple: they knew his value, apart from the mistake. But they still held him accountable.

Why didn't he resign? Well, he knew his value too, apart from the mistake. But he also knew, of course, that he was accountable.

He wasn't at the board meeting when they docked his pay. After he found out, he told reporters, simply, "I respect their decision."

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The reporters wanted more — his gut reaction, how he really felt. They wanted him to bare his soul.

"Nope," Dimon said, "you're not going to get it."

Tip: You are not your mistakes. Acknowledge them, figure out what to do differently. Then move on.

(Read More: Famous Celebrity Apologies)

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