When Benji takes a spelling test and misses one spelling word, he says he’s failed. When he tries to draw a picture and makes a mistake, he crumples up the entire sheet, no matter how long he’s spent on it up to that point, and throws it away. When he does something that requires a consequence, when the consequence is done, he sometimes says he should have more consequence because it makes him feel better. When I told him, “Nobody’s perfect,” he said, “But we can get really close.

In short: Our kid is a budding perfectionist. This worries me, because I know very well the pain and suffering that comes from expecting perfection from yourself.

On Thursday evening, while Benji spent the night at my parents’ house, Ian and I spent some time talking about our strategy for what to say or do when these episodes arise. I hope we can help Benji learn to accept his imperfections before he spends an entire school career, let alone the rest of his life, seeking after an impossible standard.

So you know how people use the word “ironic” wrong constantly? Well, I’ve got a case of real irony for y’all.

On work nights when Benji does a sleepover somewhere else, I usually get up at my normal time and catch a very early bus. Think 5:50 am. I get to work about 6:20 am, a commute about 50% faster than when I catch the 7:15 bus. I like getting to work that early because it’s quiet (there’s actually one other lady there, who also takes that same bus) and I can get a lot done in the couple hours before the majority of people arrive.

That’s what I did Friday morning. Unfortunately, I had some technical slowdowns (you can’t rush those Microsoft updates), but just about the time I was getting ready to actually start doing some work, my boss called my cell phone. It was about 7:00.

Long story short, the release notes I wrote that we deployed to production the previous night contained a screenshot that included personally identifying information (PII)–in this case, most of several account numbers, client names, and transaction information. This information appeared in a sample screenshot I’d taken from the technical specifications written by the Project Manager.

Well, &*&^#*%$#@. That’s what I call a big mistake.

In fact, it’s close to the worst thing I, personally, could do in my current job capacity.

It came to our attention because the firm whose client data that was saw it and flipped their lid. Understandable. This information went to… well, pretty much everyone in management at the company. The Managing Director of our division was already talking to my boss, who’s the VP of User Education, and my boss was now calling me.

Delightful. Now the Managing Director, who presumably didn’t know I existed before today, not only knows I exist but knows I really screwed up bad.

My boss had already logged on and deleted the screenshot from the server, so anyone opening the release notes would just see a broken picture icon rather than the image. There then followed a very long period of first me, then my senior technical writer coworker, then my boss scrambling around trying to solve some related issues.

I won’t get into any more of the details, but I got to really decide: What do I do when I make a mistake? Because that’s exactly what we’ve been wanting to help Benji deal with, and now I get to apply that very stuff in a grownup situation.

What did I do?

  1. I went into a little phone booth room and cried. A lot. Because it was only 7:15 am, and nobody else was around. Although, I’ll be honest, I cried again later after my boss talked with me. That wasn’t the funnest experience I’ve had. I tried to be normal the rest of the day, but I wasn’t. It was tough to work. But I did keep reminding myself that it was a mistake, my value doesn’t change because of it.
  2. I ate, even though I didn’t feel like it.
  3. I did what I could to fix the mistake. Which wasn’t much.
  4. I will not make that mistake again. I imagine that next week we’ll have a meeting to talk about how we, as a writing team, can change our processes to catch these kinds of mistakes in the future.
  5. I went to bed at 7:15 pm.

Ultimately, I don’t feel I did a great job with my response. But I’m going to let the guilt, shame, and recriminations go and keep doing my job to the best of my ability.

So here’s the other half of this story: How my boss handled it. He’s a great guy, by far the best manager I’ve ever had, and he puts himself on the line for his direct reports.

In this case, in all the emails going around upper management, my boss took responsibility for my mistake. I think he genuinely feels responsible, because he had the opportunity to review my release notes, and he didn’t catch my mistake either. (To be fair, nobody caught it, and my release notes went to pretty much everyone in the company for review before they went live.)

So here’s what he told me:

  1. It’s not that big of a deal.
  2. It’s not your fault, it’s my fault.

Here’s the problem I have with this response.

First of all, if it’s not that big of a deal, (a) You were calling me at 7 am and then spent the rest of the day fixing the problem. You call that “not a big deal”? (b) Why worry about who’s to blame if it’s not a big deal? You don’t need to share fault around if there’s no big deal. (c) Emails to upper management about mistakes are always a big deal. I prefer to have upper management not know I exist, so I can just happily do my job and be left alone.

Second, fault. Many times, my boss has told me that the release notes are my baby, and I’m responsible for them. He readily gives praise and credit for good work, which I appreciate; but when something bad happens, he takes responsibility.

Falling on that sword is noble and all, but it sure makes it seem like release notes aren’t 100% my baby. Because if I’m truly responsible for something, I get credit for the successes and the failures. What he’s doing is not that different from taking all the credit and giving all the blame, ultimately–it’s less uncomfortable, but it’s not more right.

There’s more to be said about this at work, but for now, I’m going to keep doing the best I can at my work. It’s all I can do.

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