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By Michael Angier

I Was So Embarrassed

In March 1987, I launched a new magazine. It was called "Creating Excellence: Vermont's Journal for People in Growing Businesses".

It was a very proud moment. It was my baby—a beautiful baby. In fact, the cover of the invitation to the launch party read, "A Magazine is Born."

I'd worked hard for over a year to create it, and the premier issue was a real success. And I did it with only one part-time employee while contracting with an editor and design firm for the production.

Shortly after we mailed 25,000 copies of the premier issue, I received a copy of it in the mail. This one wasn't so beautiful, however. It was all marked up in red ink with corrections of typos and grammatical errors. A very competent proofreader had taken it upon herself to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and had found more errors than I could have imagined.

It was a humbling experience. When your masthead says "Creating Excellence", the contents should certainly exemplify excellence. The articles did, but the errors this woman had found showed that we were far from excellent.

I was embarrassed. I was also upset. Upset with my editor for not having caught more of the typos and upset with someone I didn't even know who seemed to have taken pleasure in pointing out our errors. But mostly I was upset with myself for not having hired another proofreader to ensure an excellent issue.

It seemed unfair for someone to be so critical. Why couldn't they cut us some slack? After all, it was only our first issue. And I'd never published anything other than a newsletter before.

But somehow I was able to get over the pain and the defensiveness I felt. I knew I had to admit our errors and to own them.

So I called the woman who had so pointedly showed us we were not so great. I thanked her for taking the time to so thoroughly go through our magazine. As painful as it was, I took responsibility for it.

And then I offered her a job. I never asked her if that was her intention or not, but for all the rest of the issues we published, "Wendy" proofed them all. Before we went to type—yes, that's the way we did it in those days—we sent her a copy of each edited article. She always found mistakes, and we always corrected them before press time.

The result was a far better publication—one in which we could take well deserved pride.

So what did I learn?

I can think of at least three things. First, make a real commitment to excellence. Be willing to do what it takes to put out an excellent product or provide an excellent service.

Second, don't be defensive. Own up to it when you're faced with evidence you're not as great as you thought you were. Remember, an upset is an opportunity to see the truth.

And third, put systems into place to prevent similar errors and make excellence an ongoing effort.

It's all pretty simple, but not always easy. The payoff is, however, well worth it.



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Last Updated 01/30/2004