Your Mistakes: Gift or Burden?
Mistake: to blunder in choice; misinterpret; to make a wrong judgment of character or ability
Do you see your mistakes as a gift or a burden?
Show me someone who says he or she has rarely made a mistake and I’ll suspect that person is not telling the truth or he or she is living in a pool of mediocrity.
There are varying degrees of mistakes, but the way we respond to our mistakes and learn from them is more critical than making them in the first place.
A mistake, by definition, is something that has already occurred. Until someone creates a time machine, you are stuck with your mistakes. You cannot change what happened. You can, however, choose to let your mistakes—no matter how minor or major—contribute to your wisdom and to others’ futures, thus creating a gift for yourself, rather than a burden.
Successful individuals will acknowledge that mistakes helped them achieve their high level of accomplishment. I admit that my greatest and most powerful learning has occurred when I screwed up the most. It was only afterward, as I reflected deeply on my mistakes—trying to understand all the factors and elements that lead to them—that I gained my greatest insights and wisdom.
Fully engaging life over time, with many mistakes along the way, enriches your experience, wisdom, and knowledge. Not learning from your mistakes and continuing to make the same mistakes over and over is best described as “foolish.”
What about mistakes that have a very negative impact?! What happens when your mistake is personally traumatic or seriously affects others? Some mistakes can result in the loss of reputation, personal assets, and even quality of life. Those mistakes can become an unbearable burden.
It seems that—and I have been guilty of this—many people who have made a major mistake prefer to wallow in self-pity, berating themselves and withdrawing from life as self-imposed punishment.
If you are doing that, STOP it at once. There is absolutely no honor in such action. In fact, that attitude draws more attention to the mistake and shows that you are not willing to take responsibility and learn from it.
Some might say, Ken, I love my misery; it protects me from making another mistake. Yes . . . and your point is? If you are not making mistakes, you are not fully engaging in life. You are robbing yourself of things you could be accomplishing!
Through a mistake in judgment, Tom Cruise, the cocky fighter pilot in the movie Top Gun, got “Goose,” his navigator, killed. After that, Tom’s mind and body wanted to withdraw, to run, to quit, but the Commanding Officer saw it differently. If Tom were to quit, then Goose’s death was certainly in vain; Tom would never use what he had learned about humility and judgment—it would be lost forever.
- Where in your life have you made a mistake and learned a great lesson but then decided to withdraw, instead of taking your experience to the next level? It could be in investments, business, relationships, careers, conduct, behavior, or an endless list of actions or events.
What about the opposite?
- Where in your life have you made a major mistake and decided to use the lesson(s) you learned?
Think about the two extremes and how each contributes to your life in either a positive or negative way. I suspect the second approach is more beneficial.
I recall my attitude surrounding mistakes when I entered the professional development field over 30 years ago. In my late 20s, I felt I was the exception to the rule; I wouldn’t need to gather experience and make mistakes to learn and subsequently offer good advice to others. I thought: I do not have to be “old” (anyone over 40 . . . funny how perceptions change) before I can be wise and discerning. Oh, how wrong I was!
It is because of my mistakes and what I learned from them that I have credibility today with the individuals I coach and those with whom I work. Some of my most dramatic mistakes triggered the most personal growth . . . like being defrauded by an individual for thousands of dollars, losing a business, losing money on a big stock investment, offending one of my best clients, hiring the wrong people, not standing up for what was best in a business contract, and hesitating—thus missing out on huge business opportunities. The list goes on.
But Ken, you don’t know how bad my mistake was. You can’t understand I can no longer fully engage life because of my mistake, did I hear you say?
Let me share this true story from our local community.
A few years ago a teenager was drinking and driving. He lost control of his vehicle and ran over another teenager, killing him instantly. It was one of his friends.
“Mistake” hardly describes the event but nevertheless, that was a major mistake for the teenager. You would think there would be no recovery from such a horrible experience. But there was! The parents who lost their son befriended the teenager who had killed their son. The mother traveled with that young man; speaking together to high school students about the perils of drinking and driving. Can you imagine the impact that team has on their audience? Wow! Oddly enough, it is the level of the tragedy (mistake) that fully engages others.
If you apply wisdom and common sense to that accident, it’s easy to say it could or should have been avoided but, as I mentioned earlier, a mistake is something that has already occurred. You can’t turn back the clock.
To help you on your journey to making decisions and choices that have less room for mistakes, I recommend that you consider the following resources.
- Take the Values Preference Indicator so that you make decisions based on your core values, not on other people’s values or the emotions of the moment.
- Sometimes mistakes are made when your confidence is not as high as it could be. To assist you in boosting our self-image, complete the Self Worth Inventory to establish your opportunities to fully engage life.
- Your wellness levels highly influence your ability to make sound decisions. Fatigue and illness can make cowards of us all. To outline your stress level and general overall health habits, complete the Stress Indicator and Health Planner.
Embrace your mistakes to move to the next level. Mistakes should never be a burden. Take what you have learned and use it. Your ability to contribute to society and to others will be richer for it.
Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.
Oscar Wilde, Irish dramatist, novelist, and poet 1854–1900
Your Mistakes: Gift or Burden?
- If you make no (or very few) mistakes, chances are you are not fully engaging life.
- Do you play it safe, to avoid mistakes at all costs? What is this approach really costing you in lost opportunities and fulfillment in your life?
- In what areas could you become more fully engaged in your life . . . to test the waters and learn a few new lessons?
- Do you focus on what you can learn from your mistakes? Why? Why not?
- How can you deepen the wisdom you have gained from your mistakes?
- Do you continue to repeat same mistakes over and over? If so, what are lessons are you missing from your past mistakes/experiences?
- Are you currently burdened by a past mistake? Self-pity and self-imposed misery are no benefit to anyone. What do you have to do to convert your mistake from a burden into a gift?
- Use the following CRG resources to reduce your mistakes and take ownership of past mistakes:
- Mistakes include things we did not do. Regretting that you did not do something and thinking what if are also mistakes. Are there examples of that thinking in your life? What lesson didn’t you learn?
- Do you view your mistakes as a gift to yourself and others—a means of deepening your wisdom, knowledge, and discernment? If not, why not?
- Think of how you can use your mistakes to help others in similar situations. Start immediately.
Until next time, keep Living On Purpose!.