The Story of "Experiment A" and How I Majorly Screwed It Up.

Friday, September 26, 2014


There are times in life when we all make mistakes. Whether they are small ones that don't really shake us, or they are much bigger ones that impact us (and sometimes others) in a pretty intense way, making them is never fun.

Just yesterday, I made a pretty huge one.

We had this project, let's call it "Experiment A" that I was assigned about a month ago. When my boss first sat me down to explain Experiment A, he was very serious. He described the details to me very carefully and laid out the concept, materials we would need, and expectations for the timeline very clearly. We talked for a few days back and forth discussing the steps we needed to take to prepare for this experiment. Then, about a week beforehand, I very tediously prepared the samples we would be using in anticipation of the arrival of our carefully selected supplies and kits. It was extremely important that we got this project right, and I understood that.

Experiment A was very expensive. Probably the most money we have ever spent on a single project.

My boss had extremely high expectations for the results of this experiment, and while I am no miracle worker, I knew how important it was to both him and our lab as a whole, so I made sure that I was very intentional with everything I did. I completed the experiment over the span of two weeks. I felt happy and confident as I turned in the results to my boss and as we discussed and analyzed them, he seemed happy too. It felt good. I felt like I had delivered on my end. Until yesterday.

As it turns out, I was careful about every aspect of Experiment A, except for one...

When I was eating lunch yesterday, my boss approached me in the cafe - which he almost never does since he eats in his office. He had a very serious look on his face and seemed somewhat nervous as he sat down next to me.

He began to explain that as he was going over the results, he noticed that they looked an awful lot like a completely different experiment we had done earlier in the year - we'll call that one Experiment Z. He wanted to verify that the kit we had ordered to run Experiment A was in fact the kit for Experiment A, not Experiment Z.

My mind started racing. I was sure I had ordered the correct kit. There is no way that I ordered the kit for Experiment Z. I had been so insanely careful. I assured him that I would check and get back to him as soon as possible.

I finished eating quickly and rushed back to my desk. I pulled up the invoice from my order and the minute I found the catalog number, my heart sank. The kit I had ordered was not for Experiment A but in fact, Experiment Z. I had spent a month planning, prepping, and running Experiment Z instead of Experiment A and in the process wasted a massive portion of money. I had screwed up the single most important part of any experiment. The results were useless. The results are still useless and everything I worked so hard to accomplish means literally nothing.

My heart started racing, my palms got sweaty, and I felt like I couldn't breathe. My boss came in shortly after and when I shared the news, I was terrified that he was going to fire me. I tried explaining what happened but it didn't matter, he just stood there in silence shaking his head. Finally after what seemed like hours, he looked up at the ceiling and said "I just don't know what to do," and walked out of the lab.

I spent the next thirty minutes in tears. I was so mad at myself. Disappointed really. How in the world could I have been so careless as to order the completely wrong kit? How could I be such an idiot? I blamed myself, berated myself, and considered going home because I was sure I wouldn't have a job by the end of the day anyway.

Then I did the only thing a girl can do when she's in deep trouble - I called my Mom.

For the next twenty minutes, my mom gave me some of the best advice I've ever received. She told me a story she had read about a technician working for NASA who mixed up the order of some very specific operations he was assigned during a launch and nearly killed hundreds of people as a result of his mistake. Fortunately, no one was hurt but afterward, everyone wanted him gone. Despite the demands of his colleagues, the executive in charge decided not to do anything. His reasoning? The technician had made a massive error, yes, but he knew that he was a careful man who cared about his work and since this had been such a dangerous mistake, he knew there was absolutely no way the technician would ever make that mistake again. The gravity of the situation was enough punishment.

And that's when I realized - just like that technician - I am not the mistakes I've made.

I'm not a bad person for making such a large error. I work hard, I'm passionate, and I care about what I do. I'm not reckless and I certainly don't take this matter lightly. While I may have royally screwed up, that says absolutely ZERO about my character. What it does say is that I'm human and what matters is how I respond. Mistakes are really just opportunities to show your true colors and to prove that you can take responsibility for your actions.

So today, I am rectifying the situation. I will do everything in my power to correct my mistake and make it right. I'm not exactly sure how my boss will respond, but in the end, I can only do my best.


  1. I made a similar mistake at work a few years back. I was on a case that was amended a few times. Each amendment brings on a new "comment period" which is a period time in which we are not allowed to take action on the case. When the final amendment came in, I was so eager to get the case off my desk, I handed it in, and it was signed out immediately. The company's attorney was all over us, I looked dumb, made my boss look dumb, and the whole agency looked silly.

    However, my boss was great, didn't yell (actually made it worse), didn't throw me under the bus, and took some share of the responsibility. I've felt (and i've told her) that my career turned at that moment, and I certainly haven't made that mistake again.

    I say all that to say keep your head up! It's clear you care bout your work, and a good employer will see that. I've encountered too many people that are completely apathetic to their mistakes that I know the value of someone who would have this sort of reaction.

    It sucks now, but the sun will come out again. Hope it all works out well!

    1. Byron, you are awesome. Thank you so much for your kind words! It's amazing how many other people have been through similar things. It's so good to know that I'm not alone. :)