When I first started working in the legal field almost six years ago, I did not know the difference between a plaintiff and a defendant. My experience with law was limited to “Judge Judy” reruns at my grandparents’ house and one incident in traffic court when I was younger.

After a few months of doing secretarial work, I started learning about bankruptcy (and a little bit of everything else). Filing a bankruptcy petition when I first started required filing multiple different documents online separately. Once the client signed the documents, I was responsible for organizing them, scanning them and getting them filed online.

This seems like a pretty straightforward task, right? Well, let me just say that if there was a new and different way to mess the process up, I found it. If there’s the possibility of filing a document upside down or in the wrong place, with the wrong case number, and incorrect formatting, you can bet your bottom dollar that not only have I done it, I’ve probably done it more than once, in some variation or another.

My boss has always kindly corrected me, told me how to fix it, and gone about her day. No drama, no big production, no living in fear of ever making a mistake. I think it is her sensible and patient understanding that no employee is perfect that has always encouraged me to keep trying, find a solution, and never get discouraged by the mistake. Of course, there have been days when I’ve had to correct a document an embarrassing number of times, but when I really want to bang my head on my desk, my wonderful boss has never been unkind. “It’s fixable” is basically our motto now.

So many bosses and managers belittle their employees for even the slightest of errors, and their employees completely lose all confidence in their own abilities. Why innovate, create, and find new solutions to problems when you know your boss is going to shoot you down anyway? Why take the chance of making a mistake when you know you’ll pay for it later? Why should an employee bother to try harder if they aren’t going to be encouraged?

Because for every single new and innovative way I’ve found to mess things up, I’ve also learned something that has been valuable to my career development. In the moment of realizing a mistake, that stomach-sinking feeling is pretty much unavoidable. For example, every time a clerk from the bankruptcy court called for probably the first six months of my work in the bankruptcy field, I would feel a definite sense of dread. Maybe I put the wrong court address or the wrong trustee, or even the wrong social security number on a petition. Maybe I filed the document under the wrong section.

Between the blessedly patient and saintlike clerks of the Middle District of Georgia and a lot (a LOT!) of coaching from my boss, I’ve finally gotten somewhat comfortable with the process. That’s not to say that I don’t make mistakes, because mistakes are a fact of life. But now I’ve learned from this repeated trial and error, practice, and real hands-on experience, a variety of ways to solve problems I never meant to cause in the first place.

And, afterward, when you’ve learned how to fix the problem (and ideally how to avoid repeating the mistake), then you’ve learned a lesson firsthand that you aren’t likely to forget. In my experience, it may take a few tries, but when you finally get it right, it can be truly inspiring.

Positive approaches to problem-solving from management trickle down to employees and foster a more collaborative workspace. So just buckle in and know that we all make mistakes, especially in a new career. But the important thing is to learn not only how to fix our mistakes, but how to grow from them as well.

Haley Kennedy is a paralegal who works in the offices of Albany attorney Judy Varnell. Kennedy has an English degree from

Valdosta State University.

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