Business man hops over and avoids holes in the ground and traffic cones
Industry colleagues on the life lessons that have stuck with them

Which mistake in life stands out as one you will never make again and why? Our colleagues share their mistakes and some of the wisdom they learned. In this column, adopted from the familiar “Heard on the Street” format, we offer our responders a chance to answer the question posed in the title. These are their replies reported verbatim.

Never Again!

One mistake I’ll (probably) never make again is accidentally getting on the wrong airplane. I was flying out of Houston, Texas, to Washington, D.C., in the days before tickets were scanned, and in this rotunda area there were several gate entrances literally within a few feet of each other. (This is my excuse and I’m sticking to it.)

I was looking forward to meeting my dad and two uncles in D.C., where they were sightseeing and I had a meeting to attend. I got on the plane and after a couple hours, the pilot came on and mentioned there was a good view of the United States Capitol outside the right windows. Uh-oh. The plane was headed to Boston, Massachusetts.


The airline put me up in a hotel, and when I called to let my relatives know where I was and that I’d see them the next day, my unsuspecting uncle answered and said, “Wow, they really do have you traveling a lot with this job, don’t they!”

Bruce Swiecicki
National Propane Gas Association
Tinley Park, Illinois

Well, this just happened this morning, but I promise you, I will never, ever, ever again program the coffee maker for 5:30 a.m. without making sure the coffee pot is where it is supposed to be.

Leslie Woodward
Fairview Fittings
Oakville, Ontario, Canada

When my wife and I started Shasta Gas Propane 25 years ago, we should have called it ‘Shoestring Propane.’ We were totally underfunded. My mistake was inviting a ‘vulture capitalist’ in to help with funding. When I needed him to co-sign on a loan to buy a truck, he demanded to be a 50% co-owner. I did not agree to that. It took years to buy him out at a very substantial price. The only partners in the business now are the Lord, my wife and myself.

Chuck Kinnie
Shasta Gas Propane
Shasta, California

In the early 1980s, California banned the aftermarket conversion of motor vehicles to propane without any opposition from the propane industry. All the momentum we had made died that day. All conversion centers in California closed. Once the government takes something away, it’s difficult to get it back.

Julie Johnson
Ted Johnson Propane
Baldwin Park, California

If I were to relate this question to the past 12 months, I would not leave all my April gallons wide open without locking anything in — really bad decision this year! In life, I have been too trusting and a bit naïve at times. Although I still like to believe in people, I have become a bit more guarded.

Judy Taranovich
Proctor Gas
Proctor, Vermont

Never take for granted the value of proofreading. Sometimes the smallest mistakes can have the largest consequences. Even in a simple email, double-checking your spelling can sometimes mean the difference between a successful project and a doomed one.

When I was right out of college (at my first ‘real job’), I was sending a final proposal to a very big client. This client had an apostrophe in her last name, and that apostrophe haunts me to this day because I did not include it in her email address! Our proposal sat undelivered for three business days, and although the client was pleased with it, the delay sent ripple effects throughout the project. This is one mistake I will never make again. It is always a good idea to recheck names, addresses and content before pressing send on an email. You never know who may or may not receive it.

Jessica Johnson
Asheville, North Carolina

One mistake I will never make again is to take my health for granted. I used to tell myself I was fine and would not have any problems. But once I saw how quickly issues appeared among family and friends, I changed my thinking. I want to try to stay healthy so I can enjoy life and all the new experiences that are out there.

Rosie Buschur
McMahan’s Bottle Gas
Dayton, Ohio

The first mistake that comes to mind is going through a divorce, but let’s not go there! On the business side of things, I will never again work at a company with a toxic culture.

A company that I worked for in the past was acquired by a much larger company, and the new culture was unbearable. I, as well as many of my coworkers, left as quickly as we could, and we swore never to let ourselves return to a similar situation.

Jason Soulon
Westmor Industries
Shawnee, Kansas

I have made my share of mistakes, and I don’t want to repeat any of them.

Boyd H. McGathey
Energy Distribution Partners
Parkville, Missouri

Jumping to a quick conclusion when you think you know all the facts. I have made more errors in judgment by not taking the time to research and do my due diligence to make sure I have all the information. Took me a lot of years to get this right, and I still struggle.

Laurie Irish-Jones
Irish Propane
Buffalo, New York

I will never take for granted that people see or hear the same thing I do. Too often I have believed that there was an obvious problem that other responsible parties could see, only to watch the problem go unresolved and grow into a larger issue than needed. If you see something, say something.

Tonya Crow
Bloomington, Illinois

I frequently make the mistake of assuming that people have a clear understanding of a certain topic, subject or perspective I’m trying to convey based upon their knowledge, education and experience. I have discovered on numerous occasions throughout my life that my perception of an individual’s understanding many times is different than the reality.

I have found that clear communication (both orally and in writing), the delivery mode or style, and the tone significantly impact what the listener hears, sees and interprets. That is why I am very careful with email correspondence and especially texting, which can be so easily misinterpreted or misunderstood. I’m better face to face and on my phone communicating with others!

Jerry Schimmel
P3 Propane Safety
Cumberland, Rhode Island

The one mistake I will never make again is to not listen to the whole story. Whether it is a family, business or friendship discussion, it is important to understand what is being discussed. It is also important to listen with empathy.

If you do not listen carefully, you can easily misinterpret a comment or situation. It is very important in the business world to truly understand and listen to be able to make the right decisions.

We are not always right, but being more informed will decrease the chances of making a bad decision. I learned that lesson long ago.

Ed Varney
RegO Products
McKinney, Texas

I can hope I don’t make this mistake again and certainly try every day to not make it again. Early in my management career at RCC, I had just finished a management meeting where we discussed some upcoming changes to our company. I mentioned some of these potential changes to a staff member in my department, in confidence. Definitely my mistake — you can all see it coming! That employee then told another employee in a different department, and that department was going to be more affected by the change. That sure opened Pandora’s Box.

It’s a fine line knowing upcoming changes, but I’ve learned it’s best to keep them to myself until all or most of the details are worked out. There are times that I have had to vary from this but tried to at least inform the department personnel that were affected before involving the rest of the staff. It’s certainly one of the most difficult parts of management: striking a balance of getting our wonderful staff the right information at the right time. It is an area I feel I need to be aware of all the time.

Susan Peterson
Rural Computer Consultants
Bird Island, Minnesota

What We Learn

It’s important to remember: On one level, like spilled coffee or missing a flight, we learn to focus better. On another level, we become aware of behaviors that we can work on improving. On yet another tier, we can find empathy for ourselves and others as we accept our own errors. Mistakes are not all bad.

Nancy Coop is an industry advocate. She serves as marketing director at Cetane Associates. If you are interested in submitting responses, please contact Coop at


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