How to Recover from a Screw-up

Virginia Satir coined the phrase “The problem isn’t the problem, coping with the problem is the problem”.

Today I messed up.

About a month-and-a-bit ago my wife hosted a charity Zumba event and donated all the proceeds.  Yes, she’s awesome.  Well, we put the money in her account and sent them a cheque.  A couple of weeks later I paid a bill using my wife’s account without thinking about the impending cheque clearance and sure enough, the cheque bounced.

As soon as I found out about the cheque bouncing, my mind went through several iterations of processing what happened.

First I thought, “ah, no big deal, we’ll write another cheque“.

Then I thought, “why the hell did THEY take so long to deposit the cheque in the first place?

Then I thought, “ah crap, why did I pay that bill, it wasn’t due for another couple of weeks.”

Then I thought (after transfering money from my wife’s paypal account to her business account)  “I can fix this.”

Then I talked to my wife and apologized for making the mistake and I felt terrible.  I told her I won’t use her account to pay bills, even if it’s her bill.  At least I’ll talk to her first.  She asked me to contact the charity and apologize, which I did, and I also told them I’ll bring another cheque by.

Then I looked deeper.  Why did I want to pay off this bill so quickly?  Well, we need to get the roof done and are planning a home renovation and I wanted to wipe out all our existing debt before applying for more debt!

For those keeping score at home, you’ll realize I went through Christopher Avery’s Responsibility Process within about 10 minutes:

Denial: There is no problem!

Blame:  It’s THEIR fault for not depositing the cheque

Shame: Ah crap I screwed up, I feel bad

Obligation: I will fix this.

Responsibility: sending the apology, apologizing to my wife, agreeing to not touch her account anymore and questioning whether or not it’s the right time to do the renovations.

The best part of this situation was knowing about Christopher’s model and consciously working through the stages knowing that I wanted to get to Responsibility.  It’s 9:21am and I’m quite tired already.  It takes a great deal of mental energy to go through these steps but I feel much better and know I’m not going to have a bad day at work because I dealt with the baggage.

The problem isn’t the problem.  Coping with the problem is the problem.