Check Your Work
Shakespeare advises us, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” When his royals, nobles, and common folk err, matters get really bad (or really funny), but consequences always follow. Without forgiveness, the mayhem would never stop in Shakespeare’s stories.
Moving forward five centuries, I would speak to the errors people make in daily life. Some are small and reversible; others are major and cause harm. I prefer it when life goes smoothly, and I’m particularly crabby about unnecessary mistakes. Therefore, it’s only natural that I believe in this rule: check your work. Why suffer unnecessary mayhem? Or the inconvenience of having to do something over?
Checking your work includes checking yourself. Years ago, I faced a critical job review along with everyone else in our department. An instructor with additional managerial responsibilities in our school district’s gifted program, I worried about my job stability. Given the rocky politics of the program, I wasn’t sure if I’d be facing a fair wind or foul at my meeting. I knew I wanted to dress to impress, to show competence and confidence. I put on the only professional ensemble I owned: a skirt, blouse, wool blazer, and heels. I loved that tweed blazer; it suggested the calm assurance of an Ivy League professor. But I looked like a schoolmarm. Didn’t executive women always wear tasteful jewelry? I found the perfect piece: a vintage brooch with Lady Liberty boldly pushing her face out in bas-relief. Pinned to my lapel, she would be my good luck charm.
A colleague’s review ended first. Sobbing, she hurried by without a glance. We’re getting cut, I thought, trudging down the hall to meet the two administrators waiting for me. But I was not purged; I was promoted to a new position overseeing the entire program. I headed for the teacher’s lounge for a Coke and a smoke. Stunned, but becoming more self-important by the moment, I congratulated myself. All that precise attention to detail was paying off! I beamed into the mirror over the sink, drawing a long, slow puff on my cigarette. My gaze lowered to the reflection of Lady Liberty. I had pinned her on upside-down. This is what the two superintendents had looked at for 45 minutes. I had told my students ad nauseam about the importance of checking their work, so why hadn’t I?
Obviously, the importance of checking your work extends beyond checking your attire. In the world and at home, I find life is more pleasant, successful, and safe when I don’t make mistakes. Unfortunately, human perception is prone to error. I am mentally disposed to assume I got it right the first time (my default position), but too often I haven’t. So I find it’s best to go over things again, just to be sure.
By the way, Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Not Shakespeare. I just checked.