How to Bounce Back from a Major Mistake at Work

Failure can actually be a rewarding experience.

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Have you ever missed a meeting, stumbled through a presentation, or sent in an error-filled report? Those failures will pale in comparison to those detailed in Jessica Bacal's book, Mistakes I Made at Work, in which she interviews 25 now-successful women on the major career failures that almost cost them the job—including medical errors, fudged numbers, and personality clashes. But instead of the error derailing their careers, each woman offers key takeaways and lessons learned, proving that you can rebound from failure in the office.

Recent research supports this idea—mistakes don't have to be traumatic, they can actually be rewarding. A small new study from the University of Southern California, to be published in the journal Nature Communications, showed that when people turn failure into a learning experience, the brain processes it as a positive event. They looked at MRIs of 28 subjects, and found that when participants were given the opportunity to review mistakes made in the study and understand their errors, the "reward circuit" in the brain was activated.

"We show that, in certain circumstances, when we get enough information to contextualize the choices, then our brain essentially reaches towards the reinforcement mechanism, instead of turning toward avoidance," study author Giorgio Coricelli said in a statement.

Bacal found a similar message when interviewing women for her book—one key piece of advice came from Dr. Daniele Ofri, an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital, whose medical error almost cost a man his life. She said, "We make a mistake, but we are not the mistake."

For the full conversation, listen to the below episode of "Adulthood Made Easy," where Bacal offers more advice on rebounding from major career mistakes.