There are a number of people who are extremely scrupulous at work but who are, nevertheless, afraid of making some awful mistake. They start off with a low opinion of themselves. They think they are very likely to make mistakes, even if they cannot remember the last time it happened; and so they check their work over and over again. Even though they may know that they are held in high regard by everyone else, they find it easy to imagine losing that respect by making some critical even devastating error. They think a single particularly awful mistake will reveal to everyone how incompetent they really are; and there will be terrible consequences. In their minds, they are always on the verge of getting fired.

I tell them that everyone makes mistakes and that a single mistake is not likely to get them fired. I know, I tell them, of a man who worked in insurance and by picking up certain liabilities unnecessarily cost his company millions of dollars. And he did not lose his job! Over the years I have garnered a long list of such stories; but my favorite example is of the drawing below. An artist was asked to draw an illustration of a “footling,” that is, a baby born foot first. It is hard for me to understand how he drew it incorrectly; but I point out that the editor and publisher missed the mistake. Nothing happened to the artist as the result. His drawing was copied over into another obstetrics textbook? Can you see his mistake?

(c) Fredric Neuman


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