Mistakes: On Opportunity for Growth
Ok, so you made a mistake; welcome to the human race. We all make mistakes; they’re a part of live and learning. The problem really isn’t making mistakes; it’s making the same mistake over and over, because we haven’t learned our lesson the first time. I can’t tell you how many times a day I see people around me engaging in the same behaviors, even when they know the probability of success is low to zero. This reminds me of one of Einstein’s more famous quotes, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
On the other hand, I also see many people terrified of making choices and taking action because they’re afraid of making a mistake; sometimes to the point that circumstances overtake them and the opportunity for making a choice passes them by leaving them the victims of fate or chance. In the military we called this ‘paralysis by analysis,” but the point to remember here is that not making a choice is in fact making a choice; the choice of inaction. In the military we also had a saying for these people and circumstances, “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.”
There is no shame in making a mistake. The fact is that unless the mistake is fatal, there is always an opportunity to recover and move on…hopefully a little wiser for the experience. I’ve make more than my share of mistakes and I fully expect to continue to make mistakes…probably a few today, but, perhaps by virtue of being a trained military leader, I’m not so terrified of making mistakes. One of my frequent self-talk phrases is, “Well if that doesn’t work, at last I’ll know what not to do next.” In fact, when I left one of my military assignments, my staff gave me a plaque that read, “Often wrong. Never in doubt.” You may think that was a dig at me, but my staff loved me, because we were extremely productive and successful. When we made a mistake we took responsibility for the decision (and its consequences) and then we immediately moved on to plan B. Sure, I got my share of butt-chewings, but I also got a chest full of medals.
Today, I’d like to share a post by Julie Fuimano, a personal and career coach, titled “Three Ways to Embrace Mistakes as Life’s Lessons.” Julie takes some of my ideas above and expounds on them much more eloquently than I. Here’s what she has to say:
There are no mistakes in life; only lessons. What this means is that whenever something happens, there is a gem for you to learn from. If you can learn to accept mistakes, shortcomings, and unwanted events as opportunities for learning and personal growth, then you’ll feel less stressed and fearful, you’ll be more confident and self-assured, and your life experience will be more rewarding and fun.
The fact is that when you make a mistake, there is a lesson for you to learn. Mistakes are gifts. They offer you the opportunity to explore an area where perhaps you are deficient, need additional knowledge or training, or need to reevaluate your approach. Perhaps you were rushing. Whatever the reason, if you take the time to explore what happened, you can learn what you need to know to correct the situation and to put systems in place so that this same mistake does not recur.
Some people refuse to accept that they did anything wrong. It was someone else or it was the system. This is known as a victim mentality. They rationalize, deny, make excuses, justify, and blame. These people have not yet learned to accept responsibility for themselves and for their actions.
When you do something wrong or something doesn’t quite work out the way you want, there are ways of managing it so that you learn the lesson, move on from it, and grow stronger in the process. By adopting these three approaches to life, you can learn to handle yourself gracefully and deepen your relationships with yourself and with others.
1) Be open to making mistakes
Accept that you’re human and that each of us will do things we regret. Each of us will take a wrong turn, hurt someone’s feelings, or make bad choices. Be open to making mistakes and embrace them as an opportunity to learn valuable life lessons. They hurt sometimes – a lot of the time. But if you open to learning from your mistakes, you will be able to move on rather than wallowing in regret or disappointment. If you don’t learn the lesson, it will repeat itself again and again in different situations until you get it. Experience is a hard teacher.
2) Be aware
In other words, look for areas of improvement. Be on the lookout for “mistakes” or ways to strengthen your character. Be aware of what you are doing, why you are doing it, how you feel, and how you make others feel. This way of thinking is about being proactive and seeking betterment to avoid unnecessary blunders. If you are aware of how your behaviors impact others, then you can determine whether that is enhancing or hurting your relationships.
3) Accept full responsibility for yourself and your life
Whatever happens, whenever you make a mistake or you are involved in a misunderstanding, take responsibility. There is always something to be learned or improved even if the other person was wrong too.
Accepting responsibility is liberating. Yes, it’s hard to admit you were wrong. But it demonstrates strength, courage, and a commitment to personal excellence. It’s respectful. By doing so, you demonstrate that you care about yourself and the other person.
When you accept full responsibility for yourself, you also accept responsibility for making things right. If something was done poorly, then you can fix it. If something was misunderstood, then focus on building greater understanding in your relationships. When you accept responsibility, you demonstrate the highest level of respect for yourself and others. And you learn to make better choices to avoid problems, mistakes, and misunderstandings in the future.
By being open to learning life’s lessons from every event, situation, and encounter; by maintaining an awareness of how you are received in relationships with others; and by accepting complete responsibility for yourself; you empower yourself to create richer, more meaningful relationships with others. You also will also develop more self-respect and learn to stop beating yourself up over your mistakes; instead taking responsibility, making things right where necessary, and committing yourself to developing greater integrity and a more mature character.
Ok, so there it is. You now have permission to go out there today and screw up! Just don’t beat yourself up for it, learn whatever lessons are contained in it, and move on a wiser and stronger person.
Here’s hoping you have an intentionally great and productive day.