The Fear of Being Wrong

I was nervous about bidding the heating and air conditioning systems on 3 school additions.  The specifications called for chilled water cooling—systems we had little experience installing.  However, the department manager convinced me he knew what he was doing, and if we got the jobs, we could perform the work. We won the bid, installed the systems, and they would not operate.

The problem resulted from chilled water not moving through the system at a high enough volume.  At first we believed the lack of flow resulted from entrapped air—so we attached garden hoses to the piping and ran the pumps continuously to remove the air. Sure enough, with the nozzle of the hose in a bucket of water, you could see huge bubbles of air belching from the pipes—but the systems still didn’t work.

The architect decided the problem was dirt from unclean piping.  When they reported this, the school system’s construction manager threatened our contractor customers, who then contacted our bonding company—the situation was becoming dire.

Not understanding the intricacies of chilled water cooling, I was afraid we had done something wrong. Day after day, I would spend hours at each job site, running the pumps in hope the systems would purge themselves. During school board meetings I defended our work, and afterwards evaded questions from local media. We were spending thousands of dollars trying to make the systems work, not getting paid and our reputation was being ruined.

At my wit’s end, I hired a consulting engineer to review the plans, specifications and our installation. I forwarded the documentation to the engineer and arranged for him to tour the jobs. A couple of days later, he called and told me there was no need to inspect our work, upon reviewing the plans he determined the pumps were too small to maintain the required water flow. I forwarded his written report to the contractors and the problem was solved—in fact, we were paid to change out the pumps. I made a serious error by undertaking a job that I did not understand, and because I was afraid we had made serious mistakes, I compounded that error by not seeking professional help earlier

The fear of being wrong, being afraid to discover the root of a problem, can lead to it becoming worse.  A decision based upon incorrect facts is bound to be an incorrect decision.


It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” – William Arthur Ward

4 responses to “The Fear of Being Wrong

  1. So many of us are paralyzed by fear of making a mistake. Terrible way to live. My father always told me, “Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you do. Just DO SOMETHING! Then, if it doesn’t work out the way you want, you can make adjustments.” Still good advice. Wish I followed it more! Good post, Bill.

    Great post. I think it takes a lot in the modern world of scarce jobs and unemployment to admit having made a mistake. People can really relate to your story and recognize themselves. Mistakes are lessons to learn.


    • Often the fear that you have made a mistake will prevent finding a solution to a problem. Facing the truth allows for solutions and closure. Thank you for your comments.

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