I make a lot of bonehead mistakes on a daily basis (ask my employees and coworkers). As a tired father of three kids, I have learned that is better to learn from my mistakes than try to avoid them altogether (which is not possible or fun). Here are three of the dumbest mistakes I have made and what I have learned from making them:
Dumb mistake #1: Not asking for help I have been saying this since my undergraduate years: "Be aware of your strengths and your weaknesses. More importantly, be vocal about your weaknesses". With so much specialization in anthropology today, it is impossible to know everything. It isn't reasonable for you or anyone in anthropology to harness the entire collective knowledge in this field. In our Tribe, we have a teaching that parents teach each child differently then they teach the others. In that way, eventually, the children will be forced to rely on one another once the parents have passed on. The moral of the story is, if everyone knew everything, they wouldn't need anyone. Anthropology is the study of human beings. In the study of such a complex being as the human, be its student and not its master.
Dumb mistake #2: Not backing up my work: I am not sure what I hate more, the millions of files of papers in my office, or the millions of files on my 2 terabytes hard drive. It is amazing how much one can fit on these little storage devices, but is equally as scary because everything can disappear with one flush. I have retraced, rewritten, and rerecorded enough surveys, reports, site records to tell you that everything could have been easily avoided had I backed up my hard drive. Save yourself thousands of dollars in labor backup your data!
Dumb mistake #3: Not being kind to the administrative staff I learned this early and fast. Yet, I see people older than I make this same mistake repeatedly. They come in, make rude demands, with no show of gratitude and expect an immediate turnaround. Slowly, things begin to decay for them and still the aggressor doesn't understand the problem. The administrative staff takes care of everything: your time sheets, budgets, accounts payable, accounts receivable, mail, paychecks, tax documents, and still they greet you with a smile in the morning. Being rude to them is like pouring sugar in your gas tank and expecting your car to run. Face it, they are critical to your team's success and if all your players aren't happy, no one wins.
These are just three of the dumbest mistakes I have made but learned from. Hopefully, these insights help you avoid/solve similar mistakes in your anthropological career. I would love to hear any additional items you might have so that we can all benefit from your experience. Thank you. Kwathlanu'