Shouldn’t have opened my mouth

Today I made a mistake.  In front of a bunch of people.

I said something that was incorrect.  It happens to everyone – logically, I know this, although I rarely observe it in my fellow students – and it wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  It wasn’t even a misunderstanding of the subject matter, just a statement that betrayed a lack of knowledge of who is doing certain work.

A professor corrected me.  Emphatically, but with less of the pompous I-know-more-than-you attitude that some folks in academia relish.  I handled it remarkably well (for me), taking in her explanation and admitting my error with relative calm.

But I felt my cheeks flame with embarrassment.  Wanted to run away and hide.  Wanted to rush back to my office and stab my arm with scissors, truth be told.  I didn’t – and don’t worry, I don’t actually stab my arm with scissors in situations like this.  I just think about it.

I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, I need to speak up more often, to demonstrate how much I know about the field.  (Yeah, there’s definitely a vanity component to it: when I make mistakes like I did this morning, I blame it on going too far in my desire to “show off.”  But it’s also an expected part of academic culture.)  And if I don’t speak up, I might miss out on interesting conversations.

But speaking up means taking the risk of being thought an idiot.  Who was it who said, “Better to stay silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt”?  (Google results credit both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, among others, suggesting the quote’s origin is likely apocryphal.)

So on the other hand, it’s hard to speak up when you’re expected to always be the expert.  I demand an unreasonable amount of perfection from myself, but so does my environment.  As my friend’s advisor tells her, “You’re always being judged.”

Evidently, this bothers some people less than it does me.

4 thoughts on “Shouldn’t have opened my mouth

  1. Sorry you had to go through that embarrassment. It’s never fun being wrong but that being said I think it’s all in the way you handle it that determines whether or not you’re thought of as a “fool” making an honest mistake and blowing hot air are two totally different things. You made a mistake and you handled it with grace. That does not make you a fool. It makes you human. Not just human but the kind of human who learns from their mistakes. If your colleagues are prone to judgement, it would be foolish of them to judge you for being wrong when you took correction and admitted you were wrong. Sorry for the rant lol Take care! 🙂


    • This was really helpful, thanks for commenting! Reading your comment prompted me to reframe the incident a bit in my mind; instead of continuing to think about how I said something dumb, I’m trying to focus on how I handled it. I don’t always handle errors well, but this time I think I did, and that’s something to be proud of.

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  2. You’re very welcome! 🙂 I can relate to you on this. Being wrong sometimes feels like the end of the world to me lol but honestly as cliche as it is errors are a way to grow as a person….at least that’s how I’m trying to look at it. You should be proud of yourself. The fact you can hold yourself together while a colleague is calling you out on an error gives you the opportunity to show what you’re made of. I probably would have just got red in the face an teary eyed lol Cheers! 🙂


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