Recently I sent a nephew of mine a list of some of the biggest mistakes to avoid on the job. He will soon graduate high school and is pursuing a trade instead of a college route. During these uncertain times, it is an especially scary world for a young person attempting to enter the workplace; a workplace that is in turmoil, much more than I would have ever expected at his age. Here are the thoughts I expressed to him. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s human nature. Unfortunately, mistakes on the job can be expensive, and sometimes lethal. The root of most of these mistakes boils down to what is known as “The Big Three:” Didn’t Know , Didn’t Think, and Didn’t Ask. When I was your age (a lifetime ago,) as an 82nd Airborne Division
paratrooper, it was impressed upon me daily to avoid these three big mistakes. Thirty years later these are the main things I try to avoid, and I’m still working on it. If you don’t know what you are doing in certain situations, things can turn deadly very quickly. You should always be mindful of your surroundings, the people around you and things that could go wrong. Not knowing could be your fault by not paying attention, or it could be your supervisor’s fault for not giving you the proper instructions. Either way you have to watch out for this. Knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do comes with time, but for now focus on your training and ask good questions. If you don’t get good answers from your trainer, get a new one.
If you are not thinking about the task at hand, then who is? You are in charge of you and the guy next to you, and the safety of everyone around you. Looking back, a lifetime ago, the consequences of my actions were often the furthest things from my mind. Some of my closest friends learned the hard way to think about what could have happened while they were in jail, in the hospital or worse. You have to think beyond your years and do what is right, not what is easy.
If you are not asking good questions, you are not growing. Asking questions is one of the cornerstones of how we learn. However, in certain circumstances you might feel intimidated to ask about a certain item or procedure. Push past this and ask the question and ask again and again, even at personal risk. Done correctly, the cycle becomes complete. Ask questions to know more, know more to think better, and think more clearly to ask better questions.
None of this will keep you away from your own misjudgments, mistakes, or misfortunes, but I have found that if you can avoid “The Big Three,” the difficult situations that you might face will be more manageable and less painful. If not, ask more questions.
Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant.