mistakes. Sometime last year, I realized that not only was I making mistakes, I was also responding to my mistakes incorrectly. I would push the situation into a dark corner of my mind, never bring up the mistake in conversation, and just hope that others would forget about it. Once I realized this, I decided to fix things and send apology letters.
Here’s one example: On July 31, 2015 I wrote apology letters to 40 customers who purchased a high-priced course from me that, in my opinion, failed to deliver the value it promised. I took the course down, refunded all of the money, and sent a personal apology to each person. The most important line in the apology was this, “I won’t be perfect in this journey, but when I do screw up I will make things right.”
Here’s what people sent in response to my apology:“My loyalty to you and your work has just doubled.”“Actions speak so much louder than words and your actions speak volumes of your true commitment to your mission and your community of readers. When treated right, a broken bone will heal stronger at the point of failure. I think it’s fair to say that you have treated the situation (I won’t call it a failure because it wasn’t to me) perfectly and you will have a stronger reader community for it.”“You’re a beauty James. Thanks again for your honesty.”
I cannot tell you how relieved I was after this experience. I had procrastinated on sending these apologies for a year. That’s right, an entire year. Twelve months of awkwardness and anguish evaporated in 24 hours. It was one of the best uses of time I can think of. Furthermore, not only was my apology the right thing to do, it also completely turned the situation around.
Here are the two biggest lessons I learned while writing my apology letters:Don’t justify your actions. When I started writing I had a very strong urge to generate reasons for my behavior or explain away my mistakes. Just say you’re sorry and admit that you screwed up. You don’t need to berate yourself, but don’t water it down either. Just state the facts: “I did X and it was a mistake.”Give specific examples of how you are getting better. Don’t just tell them that you messed up. What steps have you taken to improve? Show that you care about the mistake so much that you took real action to correct it.
Today I actually feel stronger because I owned up to my flaws.
I have said this basically every year, but let me say it again: nearly everything I write about, I have learned from someone else. I am building upon the work of others, synthesizing ideas and stories, and sharing what I learn with you. I don’t own these ideas and I’m not worried about “getting credit” for my work. What I want more than anything is for my work to help people. I just want to contribute something useful to the conversations we have about why and how we live our lives. This is why I list footnotes at the end of each article and why I maintain my Thank You page.
.Charlie Munger has a fantastic quote about money, privilege and impact: “People should take way less than they’re worth when they are favored by life… I would argue that when you rise high enough in American business, you’ve got a moral duty to be underpaid—not to get all that you can, but to actually be underpaid.”
Right now, I just send out ideas as I get them and hope that it hits the mark with most people. I can do better than that. One of my goals for the next 12 months is to create a personalized experience that makes newsletter subscribers feel loved. Yes, you should get new articles when I publish them. But you should also get the most relevant content to your needs and interests. I have a lot of ideas about how to do that and I am excited to raise the bar.