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What to do when you screw up?

I think many of us have done this, and if you haven’t count yourself lucky… bit off more than you can chew.

I recently  made a huge error in judgment and professionally it is devastating to me because I don’t normally make mistakes like that.

What did I do?

I bit off more than I can chew and took on one job too many out of fear of turning away jobs.

I don’t normally do this. I send out one RFP per day in order to stay ahead of the curve and get enough jobs to support my family. Plus, I outsource extra work regularly. It’s worked for me for over a year. For over a year I have provided more than half our family income working from home as a Virtual Assistant while raising my family and going to graduate school.

But then I got a taste of greed, greed for working with a company that I already respected and knew about. Not greed of money or things, but greed to work with that company and their awesome projects.

I have turned down many jobs knowing I was already working too many hours. I always recommend someone I know can do the job but I always turn the jobs down, even if I submitted an RFP, because I’m usually pretty good at picking when and how I do things. But I really wanted to work on their projects. I really WANTED it.

I wanted it so much that I ignored the fact that, my husband changed his hours at work. He now works Saturday through Tuesday so he has Wednesday through Friday home. He expects us to spend time together then and he is an early bird so there is no way I can work when he is here bugging me. (seriously I love having him here)

Without discussing it with my husband I took a job that required me to do things during the day, during the week and that I cannot outsource extra tasks. Of course, he is supportive, but it is hard to see him and not get to do things with him, and honestly, I don’t want to. At this stage of my life I enjoy the fact that I can work when I want, and how I want.

So I took this job, it’s only 10 hours a month but, I did ten hours of work in two weeks, because that is how getting a new contract is. You have to feel it out and test it out and work out the kinks and learn new things, this is normal and expected, and had my husband kept his normal Monday – Friday Schedule this would be fine.

Weekends, while I do technically work, I have to do it around my kids’ schedules. I can’t really work full days on Saturday and Sunday either. Being the ONLY parent home while the kids are here means that I am left to take care of their needs by myself on those days, this means less working hours.

But I really wanted this particular job. Bad. Heck if I could work for them 40 hrs a week I’d do that,  but I can’t. I only have two real days a week that I can work regular hours, then the other days I am working at half time or over nights at best. I made a choice a long time ago that my family was first.  Also right now my education is second, since I am in graduate school, and my career is third.

But only for two more years! Then my youngest will be off to college, and I will be done with my graduate degree, then everything will change.

But the one thing that will not change is that my first priority is my family. This includes finding ways to bring in half the income, plus. But I have to do it in a way that least affects my family, or my studies.

Before accepting this contract, I had been turning away from hourly work taking only package work such as what is listed on my local Blog Consulting site, then I sent for info for this company and I got excited. I got a little thrill.  They are involved with some awesome activities for women and are a truly ethical company led by an outstanding and ethical woman. I felt excited about work. But soon I realized I made a big mistake.

One it’s been a long time since I worked hourly. I have one client that I work with on an hourly basis but it is on my own time and minuscule. Most of the contracts I have are results based, rather than hourly, and I can turn the work in how ever it works for me. Plus I never keep rack of hours, which is awesome – one less thing to track. I just do the work, they get a couple edits, then I’m done.

I screwed up. I made a mistake. I resigned in the best way that I could – I just told them honestly what was wrong. I should have let someone else take this job. There are serious repercussions for my mistake. I have probably messed up their trust in hiring a Virtual Assistant by bowing out after less than a month. It takes a LOT OF TIME and effort to train a VA. It’s something a lot of VAs don’t realize since they aren’t doing the training but trust me, it takes a lot of work to get things organized to the point that you can have a Virtual Assistant.

So can you learn from my mistake?

YES! You can!

1. Determine the types of tasks you truly love and enjoy doing – Remember that a task is separate from the person or company hiring you. It could be Donald Trump, and I still would want to outsource certain tasks because I literally hate doing them.

2. Create and Stick to Standard Operating Procedures – I say … and stick to them, because I have them in place, I just did not stick to them. Had I done so I would have turned down the job, or I would have presented my proposal within the guidelines that I work and not just said “yes, yes, yes” without giving it thought.

For Example:

Their task lists asks me to do some pretty typical menial administrative tasks – nothing wrong with them, but these I normally outsource. I said I would do it and I would love it. I was not lying to get the job, I honestly do not need more jobs for more money other than for my plastic surgery fund, 🙂 , but I believed myself because I wanted the job too much due to who they were. I should have listed those tasks and said “My team can do these items” and “I will handle these items myself.”

3. It’s okay to turn down jobs – You want to work for your ideal client. When you work for your ideal client the “work” becomes almost easy and pleasurable. If you only do things that you love, obviously work will be more pleasurable. And I am sorry, but no matter what the company is, if you had to clean the toilets and you did not want to do that, found it the worst thing to do in the world, and you weren’t in a financial position to have to do that, no amount of pay would make up for having to do it.

This brings me to the last tip.

4.  Know yourself – Know what you can do, will do, won’t do, and need to do. Being yourself, in the most authentic manner is going to always give you more joy in life than trying to force yourself to do things, even if you are good at them, that you find mentally or physically demeaning or boring.

Oh wait, one more thing, if you do make a mistake all you can do is go to the person, ask to rewrite the contract, give a notice of some kind of needing to move on, and be honest. Tell them you screwed up, you bit off more than you can chew and why. If they are decent people they’ll get it. Sure they’ll be upset, but they will understand and appreciate your honesty.

About Stephanie Watson

Mom | Wife | Virtual Assistant | Content Strategist
Stephanie has been working from home for over 20 years as a virtual assistant, template bender, and content writer. She's currently transitioning to business coach. You can learn more about her at her website


  1. Great tips to learn from! I am constantly reminding myself not to take on too much at one time. I need to prioritize my life better – short and long term goals. Planning is the key! We really can have everything we want – if we plan for it!

  2. Excellent tips! I think this post has helped me because I am swamped with client work and thought about taking on more but wasn’t sure. Now I pretty much know that I need to limit myself because I would never want to jeopardize current client relationships. And your tip about choosing the tasks that you really only love to do is great.

    The only thing I can say to you is make time for your husband and family. Don’t let this work consume you because it won’t have a good outcome down the road.

  3. Yep I’ve been there done that before (biting off more than I could chew). Love the tip about only doing what you love – took me a loooooong time to realize the importance of this one! But you can definitely learn from the mistake and move on.

  4. I’ve certainly over-extended myself in the past. Now I think that I’m scared to do much of anything because of that. Knowing what you can handle is key. Great tips, that don’t only apply to work, but to life in general.

  5. Being able to admit defeat is an admirable quality IMO. Great that you were able to see things for what they were and step down before life became too stressful.

    I love that family comes first no matter what. There needs to be more of that viewpoint!

    Thanks for these great tips. I agree with Christi that they apply to life in general aswell as work.

  6. I can SO relate Stephanie! I was in this exact position just 2 weeks ago and it feels awful to admit the mistake but it is well worth it in the end. Hopefully your client will be grateful you came to this realization and were honest instead of trying to cover it up by doing awful work or missing deadlines.Great tips!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by StephanieWatson, Christine Holroyd. Christine Holroyd said: Reading "What to do when you screw up?" [Stephanie has some great tips for you here] […]

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