#44 – How to learn from your mistakes

Power linesYou can only learn from a mistake after you admit you’ve made it. As soon as you start blaming other people (or the universe itself) you distance yourself from any possible lesson. But if you courageously stand up and honestly say “This is my mistake and I am responsible” the possibilities for learning will move towards you. Admission of a mistake, even if only privately to yourself, makes learning possible by moving the focus away from blame assignment and towards understanding. Wise people admit their mistakes easily. They know progress accelerates when they do.

This advice runs counter to the cultural assumptions we have about mistakes and failure, namely that they are shameful things. We’re taught in school, in our families, or at work to feel guilty about failure and to do whatever we can to avoid mistakes. This sense of shame combined with the inevitability of setbacks when attempting difficult things explains why many people give up on their goals: they’re not prepared for the mistakes and failures they’ll face on their way to what they want. What’s missing in many people’s beliefs about success is the fact that the more challenging the goal, the more frequent and difficult setbacks will be. The larger your ambitions, the more dependent you will be on your ability to overcome and learn from your mistakes.

But for many reasons admitting mistakes is difficult. An implied value in many cultures is that our work represents us: if you fail a test, then you are a failure. If you make a mistake then you are a mistake (You may never have felt this way, but many people do. It explains the behavior of some of your high school or college friends). Like eggs, steak and other tasty things we are given letter grades (A, B, C, D and F) organizing us for someone else’s consumption: universities and employers evaluate young candidates on their grades, numbers based on scores from tests unforgiving to mistakes.

For anyone than never discovers a deeper self-identity, based not on lack of mistakes but on courage, compassionate intelligence, commitment and creativity, life is a scary place made safe only by never getting into trouble, never breaking rules and never taking the risks that their hearts tell them they need to take.

Learning from mistakes requires three things:

  1. Putting yourself in situations where you can make interesting mistakes
  2. Having the self-confidence to admit to them
  3. Being courageous about making changes

This essay will cover all three. First we have to classify the different kinds of mistakes.

The four kinds of mistakes

One way to categorize mistakes is into these categories:

  • Stupid: Absurdly dumb things that just happen. Stubbing your toe, dropping your pizza on your neighbor’s fat cat or poking yourself in the eye with a banana.
  • Simple: Mistakes that are avoidable but your sequence of decisions made inevitable. Having the power go out in the middle of your party because you forgot to pay the rent, or running out of beer at said party because you didn’t anticipate the number of guests.
  • Involved: Mistakes that are understood but require effort to prevent. Regularly arriving late to work/friends, eating fast food for lunch every day, or going bankrupt at your start-up company because of your complete ignorance of basic accounting.
  • Complex: Mistakes that have complicated causes and no obvious way to avoid next time. Examples include making tough decisions that have bad results, relationships that fail, or other unpleasant or unsatisfying outcomes to important things.

(I’m sure you can come up with other categories: that’s fantastic, please share them here. But these are the ones you’re stuck with for the rest of this essay).

Breakfast of championsI’m leaving all philosophical questions about mistakes up to you. One person’s pleasure is another person’s mistake: decide for yourself. Maybe you enjoy stabbing your neighbor’s cat with a banana, who knows. We all do things we know are bad in the long term, but are oh so good in the short term. So regardless of where you stand, I’m working with you. However mistakes are defined in your personal philosophy this essay should help you learn from them.

Learning from mistakes that fall into the first two categories (Stupid & Simple) is easy, but shallow. Once you recognize the problem and know the better way, you should be able to avoid similar mistakes. Or in some cases you’ll realize that no matter what you do once in a while you’ll do stupid things (e.g. even Einstein stubbed his toes).

But these kinds of mistakes are not interesting. The lessons aren’t deep and it’s unlikely they lead you to learn much about yourself or anything else. For example compare these two mistakes

  1. My use of dual part harmony for the 2nd trumpets in my orchestral composition for the homeless children’s shelter benefit concert overpowered the intended narrative of the violins.
  2. I got an Oreo stuck in my underwear.

The kind of mistakes you make define you. The more interesting the mistakes, the more interesting the life. If your biggest mistakes are missing reruns of tv-shows or buying the wrong lottery ticket you’re not challenging yourself enough to earn more interesting mistakes.

And since there isn’t much to learn from simple and stupid mistakes, most people try to minimize their frequency and how much time we spend recovering from them. Their time is better spent learning from bigger mistakes. But if we habitually or compulsively make stupid mistakes, then what we really have is an involved mistake.

Involved mistakes

pile of mistakesThe third pile of mistakes, Involved mistakes, requires significant changes to avoid. These are mistakes we tend to make through either habit or nature. But since change is so much harder than we admit, we often suffer through the same mistakes again and again instead of making the tough changes needed to avoid them.

Difficultly with change involves an earlier point made in this essay. Some feel that to agree to change means there is something wrong with them. “If I’m perfect, why would I need to change?” Since they need to protect their idea of perfection, they refuse change (Or possibly, even refuse to admit they did anything wrong).

But this is a trap: refusing to acknowledge mistakes, or tendencies to make similar kinds of mistakes, is a refusal to acknowledge reality. If you can’t see the gaps, flaws, or weaknesses in your behavior you’re forever trapped in the same behavior and limitations you’ve always had, possibly since you were a child (When someone tells you you’re being a baby, they might be right).

Another challenge to change is that it may require renewing commitments you’ve broken before, from the trivial “Yes, I’ll try to remember to take the trash out” to the more serious “I’ll try to stop sleeping with all of your friends”. This happens in any environment: the workplace, friendships, romantic relationships or even commitments you’ve made to yourself. Renewing commitments can be tough since it requires not only admitting to the recent mistake, but acknowledging similar mistakes you’ve made before. The feelings of failure and guilt become so large that we don’t have the courage to try again.

This is why success in learning from mistakes often requires involvement from other people, either for advice, training or simply to keep you honest. A supportive friend’s, mentor’s or professional’s perspective on your behavior will be more objective than your own and help you identify when ytou’re hedging, breaking or denying the commitments you’ve made.

In moments of weakness the only way to prevent a mistake is to enlist someone else. “Fred, I want to play my Gamecube today but I promised Sally I wouldn’t. Can we hang out so you can make sure I don’t do it today?” Admitting you need help and asking for it often requires more courage than trying to do it on your own.

The biggest lesson to learn in involved mistakes is that you have to examine your own ability to change. Some kinds of change will be easier for you than others and until you make mistakes and try to correct them you won’t know which they are.

How to handle complex mistakes

a complex mistakeThe most interesting kinds of mistake are the last group: Complex mistakes. The more complicated the mistake you’ve made, the more patient you need to be. There’s nothing worse than flailing around trying to fix something you don’t understand: you’ll always make things worse.

I remember as a kid when our beloved Atari 2600 game system started showing static on the screen during games. The solution my brother and I came up with? Smack the machine as hard as we could (A clear sign I had the intellect for management). Amazingly this worked for awhile, but after weeks of regular beatings the delicate electronics eventually gave out. We were lazy, ignorant and impatient, and couldn’t see that our solution would work against us.

Professional investigators, like journalists, police detectives and doctors, try to get as many perspectives on situations as possible before taking action (Policemen use eyewitnesses, Doctors use exams and tests, scientific studies use large sample sizes). They know that human perception, including their own, is highly fallible and biased by many factors. The only way to obtain an objective understanding is to compare several different perspectives. When trying to understand your own mistakes in complex situations you should work in the same way.

Start by finding someone else to talk to about what happened. Even if no one was within 50 yards when you crashed your best friend’s BMW into your neighbor’s living room, talking to someone else gives you the benefit of their experience applied to your situation. They may know of someone that’s made a similar mistake or know a way to deal with the problem that you don’t.

But most importantly, by describing what happened you are forced to break down the chronology and clearly define (your recollection of) the sequence of events. They may ask you questions that surface important details you didn’t notice before. There may have been more going on (did the brakes fail? Did you swerve to avoid your neighbor’s daughter? etc.) than you, consumed by your emotions about your failure, realized.

If multiple people were involved (say, your co-workers), you want to hear each person’s account of what happened. Each person will emphasize different aspects of the situation based on their skills, biases, and circumstances, getting you closer to a complete view of what took place.

If the situation was/is contentious you may need people to report their stories independently – police investigators never have eyewitness collaborate. They want each point of view to be delivered unbiased by other eyewitnesses (possibly erroneous) recollections. Later on they’ll bring each account together and see what fits and what doesn’t.

investigationAn illustrative example comes from the book Inviting disasters Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the edge of technology. It tells the story of a floating dormitory for oil workers in the North Sea that rolled over during the night killing over 100 people. The engineering experts quickly constructed different theories and complex explanations that focused on operational errors and management decisions.

All of these theories were wrong. It was eventually discovered through careful analysis that weeks earlier a crack in a support structure had been painted over, instead of being reported and repaired. This stupid, simple and small mistake caused the superstructure to fail, sinking the dormitory. Without careful analysis the wrong conclusion would have been reached (e.g. smacking the Atari) and the wrong lesson would have been learned.

Until you work backwards for moments, hours or days before the actual mistake event, you probably won’t see all of the contributing factors and can’t learn all of the possible lessons. The more complex the mistake, the further back you’ll need to go and the more careful and open-minded you need to be in your own investigation. You may even need to bring in an objective outsider to help sort things out. You’d never have a suspect in a crime lead the investigation, right? Then how can you completely trust yourself to investigate your own mistakes?

Here some questions to ask to help your investigation:

  • What was the probable sequence of events?
  • Were their multiple small mistakes that led to a larger one?
  • Were there any erroneous assumptions made?
  • Did we have the right goals? Were we trying to solve the right problem?
  • Was it possible to have recognized bad assumptions earlier?
  • Was there information we know now that would have been useful then?
  • What would we do differently if in this exact situation again?
  • How can we avoid getting into situations like this? (What was the kind of situation we wanted to be in?)
  • Was this simply unavoidable given all of the circumstances? A failure isn’t a mistake if you were attempting the impossible.
  • Has enough time passed for us to know if this is a mistake or not?

As you put together the sequence of events, you’ll recognize that mistakes initially categorized as complex eventually break down into smaller mistakes. The painted over crack was avoidable but happened anyway (Stupid). Was there a system in place for avoiding these mistakes? (Simple). Were there unaddressed patterns of behavior that made that system fail? (Involved). Once you’ve broken a complex mistake down you can follow the previous advice on making changes.

Humor and Courage

No amount of analysis can replace your confidence in yourself. When you’ve made a mistake, especially a visible one that impacts other people, it’s natural to question your ability to perform next time. But you must get past your doubts. The best you can do is study the past, practice for the situations you expect, and get back in the game. Your studying of the past should help broaden your perspective. You want to be aware of how many other smart, capable well meaning people have made similar mistakes to the one you made, and went on to even bigger mistakes, I mean successes, in the future.

One way to know you’ve reached a healthy place is your sense of humor. It might take a few days, but eventually you’ll see some comedy in what happened. When friends tell stories of their mistakes it makes you laugh, right? Well when you can laugh at your own mistakes you know you’ve accepted it and no longer judge yourself on the basis of one single event. Reaching this kind of perspective is very important in avoiding future mistakes. Humor loosens up your psychology and prevents you from obsessing about the past. It’s easy to make new mistakes by spending too much energy protecting against the previous ones. Remember the saying “a man fears the tiger that bit him last, instead of the tiger that will bite him next”.

So the most important lesson in all of mistake making is to trust that while mistakes are inevitable, if you can learn from the current one, you’ll also be able to learn from future ones. No matter what happens tomorrow you’ll be able to get value from it, and apply it to the day after that. Progress won’t be a straight line but if you keep learning you will have more successes than failures, and the mistakes you make along the way will help you get to where you want to go.

The learning from mistakes checklist

  • Accepting responsibility makes learning possible.
  • Don’t equate making mistakes with being a mistake.
  • You can’t change mistakes, but you can choose how to respond to them.
  • Growth starts when you can see room for improvement.
  • Work to understand why it happened and what the factors were.
  • What information could have avoided the mistake?
  • What small mistakes, in sequence, contributed to the bigger mistake?
  • Are there alternatives you should have considered but did not?
  • What kinds of changes are required to avoid making this mistake again?What kinds of change are difficult for you?
  • How do you think your behavior should/would change in you were in a similar situation again?
  • Work to understand the mistake until you can make fun of it (or not want to kill others that make fun).
  • Don’t over-compensate: the next situation won’t be the same as the last.

References

Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the edge of technology by James Chiles. A series of magazine style essays about major technological disasters in the last 100 years. Includes the Challenge shuttle, Apollo 13, & Three mile island.

The Logic of Failure by Dietrich Dorner. An analysis of decision making mistakes in complex environments. More academic than Inviting disaster, but also more prescriptive.

You can read this essay in Ukranian here.

[First posted, July 17 2005]

106 Responses to “#44 – How to learn from your mistakes”

  1. vinay

    I have made a mistake and i cannot go back to correct it. Its a kind of mistake which i cannot repeat. The situation is over in my life. This post is a relief to me. But still its a mistake. Whatever I try to do in life I won’t be able to compensate for the mistake i made.

    Reply
  2. Bilikis

    I hope that,someday,I would be able to look past my”mistake” and forgive myself.The tempestuous age was a period of my life that I can’t seem to erase from my memory because it cost me irreparable loss.Thanks Scot,am sincerely hoping that I will get there some day.I didn’t see it as a mistake back then,but now;I even call myself”foolish” for having been so gullible.Something that am clearly not(not now anyway)….I’ll get there!!!

    Reply
  3. Veronica Meyer

    Thank you for this article.
    I can read it and RELATE to it. i have been looking for a specific kind of writing that was familiar and comfortable to read long ago. But this link was lost and there was a complete breakdown in all possible communication. It’s ESPECIALLY aggravating because I lost my memory during a long period of time when I didn’t even know I had lost it. Things are clearer to me now, but I cannot patch up all the gaps in my memory. I don’t want to go back to a sunken ship, for example, to pick up broken pieces of someone’s china. It is a little bit of denial, I know, denial to see the cause of the loss and hurt, provoked by a careless afterthought. One can equate painting over a scratched wall or covering a leak with oily rags, but the hole is still there and it’s still leaking and causing damage. So what would one do in such situation. sit and wait until god almighty comes down from heaven and cover the partition to patch up some unrestored egos? I’m not sure how painting over the same gap will change anything or fix the leak. I am curious to know how else one would just plainly plaster over the cracks on the wall and forget about the raging sewer forcing it’s entry just behind it. How does one stop such flow of, argh, events, meaning intrusions, and make it flow towards its source, leaving the area to dry up healthily and quietly serene.

    Reply
  4. sara

    I have been working the army for twenty years , current job , allowed me to work longer and sometimes weekends are spent to support events. use to indent military vehicle to transport and stores and personnel. Big mistakes which i made was, dropping off along the way ,which one the drivers reported the superior, he wanted me to be punished for the mistakes. I deeply felt that I have make the big mistakes by letting my surpiors down.

    Reply
  5. zabihullah jamili

    hi my name is zabihullah jamili ako fonzie.i made a mistake yesterday and tried to learn from it.my mistake was that i called a fat women fat and made fun of her infront of my friends.one of my friends told me that that was not good.after that i realized that oh my god i wasn,t supposed to make fun of her and call her fat.any ways iam thankful to god that i learned from my mistake.at that time i thought with myself that i wasn,t supposed to do that cause all of us are born equal and are humans.so human can never make fun of a human without having any reasons.i am from afghanistan kabul province and guldara district.currently i live in afghanistan.thanks god i learned from my mistake…….and at the end i would like to thank the guy or guys that have put this information on internet so that people like me can get advantage of it and i would like to finish my writting with writting a saying that says.RESPECT TO BE RESPECTED…

    Reply
  6. steve

    Very nice article … Thanks !!

    Reply
  7. Jerrod Vann

    amazeing info….too bad this isnt part of a relationship builder for after infedelity

    Reply
  8. Heracleo J. Gaan, Jr.

    Thanks a lot. it’s a wonderful article that really helps us in avoiding and correcting our mistakes being commiteed.

    Reply
  9. Lebogang

    I made a mistake with my past relationship that I had I was not suppossed to get hurt but I waited to get hurt by the guy that I was dating and that mistake I will never do it again

    Reply
  10. mwr

    I am a programmer and discovered I made a technical programming error. In the first place, I have not hesitated to own it, contact people in the correct order, apologize, determine if I can fix the problem, and reconstruct what went wrong. I did all of that ASAP as soon as I understood the nature of the problem. Now is the hard part: living with it and facing people who trust me and regaining that trust.
    As programmers we loose sleep over the prospect of making errors and have systems in place to catch them.

    The postings are very helpful so I can work through this intelligently, and gain some perspective.

    Reply
  11. Kumaravel

    Your essay gives me some of the much needed advice for this point of my life.
    I made this grave mistake which I am still trying to admit to myself that it was my fault. I was trying to find ways to blame everyone else except myself for the mistake.
    i am still going to see a counsellor, but ur suggestions puts me on the right track so i can learn more from the counselling.

    Reply
  12. David

    We are all Animals.
    Everybody is Nuts.
    Everybody Lies.
    Everybody has habits.
    And yes, everyone makes mistakes.
    It is all a matter of degree.

    Reply
  13. Jo

    I made a mistake, and am trying to minimise some of the damage to other people that I have done. This article really hepled me to look at mistakes differently and appreciate the new opportunities I have in front of me, without obsessing over whether I’ll be repeating the same mistakes again.

    Reply
  14. Dixon

    I learned that I made a mistake of always taking the blame. I had grown so used to being the mistake maker, that later on in life, I began to over appraise the intentions of other people. Of course, the status quo is hard to change, harder than making the change itself. In my case the status quo was my family’s mistake in not realizing they had a component to the wrong, or failure.
    I discovered this after a breakthrough was made when I was diagnosed with a mental disorder. It was like my eyes were opened, and my God, was I ashamed. From there, I began to make undeniably positive changes, that required little effort, like the fact that before the diagnosis and treatment I was a hard core alcoholic. My wife at the time had a baby girl, and that was all it took, I went for an evaluation. My family was originally positive and supportive when I began the treatment, but their opinions and support dwindled when I continued to make mistakes. They had reached the conclusion that my diagnosis and treatment were wrong because of that. I agreed with them and went back to the doc to be reevaluated. My doctor, nodded a couple of times and then looked straight at me and said, “If you cant read because you cant see and I give you glasses to correct the problem, and when you put those glasses on you still cant read, that means that something else is wrong, right? I said yes. He shook his head. “Just because you can see now does not mean you know how. You still need to learn to read, just like everyone else.”
    That conversation changed my life, I knew that I was no longer subject to the standards of success and failure that everyone else had. I did make the mistake of realizing, that not everyone has the benefit, and it is a benefit, of being able to realize an error and correct it and that the notion that it makes you less of a person is simply not true, but exactly the opposite. I overestimate the courage people have in crossing that barrier. This lesson, took three years to learn, it cost me everything, I am alone, I am poor in a material sense, and yet I am rich because I am of the few that know that wealth, isn’t the possession of a thing or money, but the ability to continue to acquire it. I had to apologize to my family without belittling them on this matter, it is still tense, but I have hope.

    Reply
  15. eduardo

    i have done a lot of mistakes since the day i was born until now. i admit all my mistakes but only to myself. i hardly speak or dare to admit my fault infront of people. i always afraid. always afraid. now, i live with my shadows of the sins that i’ve done. i always hate myself bcuz of that, maybe i don’t deserve for them….i wanna say sorry but it doesnt work that easy….i’m blank with my life…..

    Reply
  16. Sarah

    I like this and think that myself and everyone involved in the current complex mistake I’m experiencing should read it! Unfortunately my response to the mistake is to avoid them. I have asked for advice from many people and they all say it’s the best thing to do. I can only help they learn from this experience (I am learning quite a bit).

    Reply
  17. Carla

    i thought your essay was very insightful. At first I though your examples were random and made me lose focus. However, it fit well with your essay on humor and courage because the variety of examples you used were at times funny within themselves as well as relative to the other examples you gave. Overall having the random examples made the article more whole.

    Reply
  18. Joram Arentved

    Mistakes of mine DID happen once in a while, Scott, an issue
    that, however, led me to another conclusion that my Danish mother was, for whatever why, what she didn’t look like: She IS right now & inevitably a big contradiction to my sta-tus as a human being, an issue, whereon the only thing that I hang onto, IS my optimism, my honesty, too, so that I can of course get on with my life & find out, what’s important
    to & about me, e.g. my labor situation that she though inadmittedly enjoys controlling & certainly some more stuff that I no longer know, don’t think, probably never find out,
    if I can fail to rely & count on & especially for myself to exist as my own owner of, what my reality is, greetings, arentved@in.com, because she always likes a big contradiction, if she even has to contradict herself etc.

    Reply
  19. Glasco MM

    A very helpful article. There is no truth like this. i applied these principles and they saved my marriage. May God bless you.

    Reply
  20. preet

    the kind of mistake that i have made, i cant do a single thing to rectify it. I know the effects but i can do anything to lessen them but pry to god to be with me. i m tired of people telling me that i should never have made that mistake. But its done now. What do i do now????

    Reply
  21. Thairy

    This is a very reflexive issue, I agree with you, especially as a strategy of learning.The teacher should be a motivator, informing, guiding errors, ie, helping students to recognize the error, analyze and reflect on it, as well as emerging problems, and negotiating to finalize a proposal or content. He or she must constantly monitor this process, while the participant must be a player committed to take responsibility for learning, identifying their weaknesses and needs, relating information, and involved with the negotiations that arise in the learning environment.

    Reply
  22. Students

    This essay is truly amazing!
    We are working on a persuasive speech, and your thoughts have helped a lot!!!

    Reply
  23. Nibedita

    I lost someone for my own mistake.I don’t know if I will ever get him back or not in my life.This will be the first and last mistake of my life.The situation is over in my life. This post is a relief to me.I can’t get him back.Whatever I try to do in life I won’t be able to compensate for the mistake i made.

    Reply
  24. maria

    well as you can see pople need to make mostakes so yiou could learn it afterwards

    Reply
  25. Stewart

    To Scot,I just worked on a very important comment,hit the wrong button,and lost it! Man I wish I new how to get it back.This is not the first time this has happened on an e-mail that was so well written.I will not give up and try and recreate that same comment again.It’s almost like you lose your train of thought then your hand does it’s own thing.Maybe I can salvage something out of this,and say that was a true MISTAKE!!!You are a great writer and I wish you all the luck in helping others.Thank you, and “God”bless,Stewart

    Reply
  26. Saba

    Thanks very very much for writing this aricle Mr. Scott. It was very well thought out and it has really helped me today. I am at a certain place in my life as a project manager and all people need to realize people make mistakes, we are not perfect and we just have to constantly improve ourselves. Thanks and may God bless.

    Reply
  27. Missy

    Scott Berkun you’ve made so many good points. Yes, we learn a lot from our mistakes especially when we admit them.

    but to say the bigger mistake we make is the biggest lesson to learn from is kind of dangerous for me. Doing the right thing is a lot riskier and harder than doing whatever one feels like doing.Especially nowadays when doing right seems obscure and thing of the past. As you have noted a lot of mistakes are made because we don’t think things through or we do it out of lack of knowledge. So wouldn’t it be better to investigate and reason our action before we commit them than to go back and try to undo them. yes, the stupid and simple mistakes are at times inevitable and may even add humor to our lives, but complex mistakes are no where fun to the person or people around it. Especially when people continually make “complex mistakes” over and over again. If Complex is the maximum level of mistakes we make, than I equate complex mistakes to ending someone’s life, abusing…etc.If you are in any way encouraging people to make complicated mistakes when you state

    “The more interesting the mistakes, the more interesting the life. If your biggest mistakes are missing reruns of tv-shows or buying the wrong lottery ticket you’re not challenging yourself enough to earn more interesting mistakes.”

    than I don’t agree with you one bit.With that said, I am with you in admitting our faults 100%. The little crack would have been filled and the aftermath prevented if the person that painted over it just simply admitted there was a crack. But at times even in our laziness, or lack of confidence to admit mistakes we cause so much pain to ourselves and OTHERS.

    Reply
  28. shelly

    “Do not mistake running away to being free” unknown. any mistake not admitted holds us captive and we submit to its every demand. I rather admit and move on.

    Reply
  29. Jazrogers1@gmail.com

    Thanks you for this insightful and well thought out article. My mistakes are, and always have been a source of shame. The way I feel about my mistakes has held me back in my life. Looking at mistakes and working to understand them as this article suggest may promote insight and growth. I’m hoping greater insight and the growth of understanding will help loosen the shame locks on my motivation.

    Reply
  30. Tonia

    I think this article is well done. It actually will help me get through my work day better. thank you very much.

    Reply
  31. Brian

    In life if were lucky along the way we get a handful of teachers that are willing to offer us the benefit of their life’s experiences. Sometimes we learn by merely watching others, by observing those we admire and trying to emulate them and of course we learn from our mistakes. That may be the best teacher of all.

    The mistakes Ive made, the ones that left scars are the ones Ive benefited most from. I stole precious time from myself, I rendered myself unable to navigate my life, I destroyed love. The thing is that I don’t know who I would be now if I didn’t have those things as my past to have learned from. I created that distant person even though at the time I was completely unaware that I actually had a say in my life. Things and events happened to me, or so I thought. Then it was if I were a pawn in someone else’s game of chess. I didn’t comprehend that the poor decisions I made on any given day were directly proportionate to missed opportunities and personal failures down the road.

    This may have been fundamental reasoning for others but because my perception of life’s events were skewed by drunkenness reasoning wasn’t even on the radar. I allowed myself to become a passenger in my own life. I was incapable at the time of understanding that my mistakes were disguised as a combination of circumstances that had potential to benefit me. That was then.

    This is now. I’m still making mistakes, just not the kind that will devastate my well being. Then the things I hated most about myself are now the same things I love most about myself. I understand today that I’m allowed to fail and that in failing I will benefit greatly from the experience because this is what I choose. I’m no longer afraid of failure and pain is my greatest benefactor. I don’t choose pain but I wont run from it any longer when it knocks on my door. I allow it to teach me and there is personal power and strength to be gained by facing that which I once hid from. I no longer make the same mistakes with the same results over and over again. They teach, I learn, I move forward.

    Doors open for me today because I create opportunities that allow that to happen in the same way that I created an atmosphere in the past that closed doors and opportunity. Things that do just happen on my way are no longer out of my control. Even if I cant manage all of the circumstances that present themselves to me I decide how I choose to respond. I’m no longer a pawn in my own chess game. It recently occurred to me that I can trust myself, I can rely on myself because I know that I no longer have a desire, conscious or not to harm my minds journey and my hearts path. I bring into being a climate that introduces positive results. I know that I’m not going to harm myself and I know that failures, setbacks and detours aren’t the end of the world. I’m OK. I’m more than OK.

    Reply
  32. leticia

    let others do it for you and learn from their mists!

    Reply
  33. Cathy

    I made a big mistake. It kind of left me numb. I don’t have a job so I should have been thinking of the future. Really I was helping family members. I really don’t regret helping them I just regret that I made a complex mistake once again. I am taking full responsibility and not blaming anyone else but myself. I did it and I can’t take it back. I hope there is help for me, but at this age in my life I don’t know.

    Reply
  34. prabha nair

    this is a truly inspiring essay.it lets us 2 find our mistakes and correct ourselves through that mistake. expecting more such gud essays…………….

    Reply
  35. Joram Arentved

    Only, when I was much, much, younger than right now, did I make an unwanted mistake, one that I most certan- & honestly, meanwhile, didn’t forget, didn’t know, didn’t think, so far never found out, if I could ever fail to ‘testify’ to being happy to exist as whatever totally changed & rigtheous man, right now my obligation: To let you receive a relevant suggestion of mine that my only solution to this problem of mine is to exist as an ‘optiman,’ forever to be, before my bad news personally(!) makes me regret it, so I can find out & so on, greetings,
    ‘J.A.,’ Ifoundittout@yahoo.com, there to be continued!

    Reply
  36. John Boyd

    What happens when you fail? It’s all good. You tried, and you learned. Do it the right way next time.

    Reply
  37. Jethro

    thank you somuch for this article.i have come to have boldness to admit my mistakes.thank you Mr Scott once again.im gratefull

    Reply
  38. Jianna

    I think your essay is excellent!!! Such clarity is imperative for all aspects of ones life and especially for those who are responsible for influencing/mentoring others in their lives such as their children and loved ones. Thank you very much. I will definitely search for your book.

    Reply
  39. MOSHE

    the mastake I hv made is unforgiveble, I don’t blame it or them but is Peer presure.We were passed std 7(grade 9)then have to decide which subject to do @ grade 10 & Most of my Friends were not with Mathematics of which i was good on it. then they decided to take other subjects except Maths and i follow them cause I did’nt want to separate with them.It was at the year 2000 bt I cannot forgive or forget that cause it badly come to me, first time was chosing careers, scecond affecting my study at university and then is work and I dont know what next.

    Reply
  40. dipesh sarma

    thankful to u for your precious advice n suggestion.i was in deep worry about my past failures which made me a very weak person who doesnt take decision now n dont want to be ridiculed.i m sure your essay will help me to overcome my weeknesses.thanx a million

    Reply
  41. Nachupally Ram Kumar

    Excellent, practical, brainstorming information and thought provoking.
    thank you and look forward for future presentations.
    Nachupally Ram Kumar

    Reply
  42. ramesh

    hey,
    an amazing site only for mistakes. Post yours and learn from others’ http://www.mistakopedia.com This one got the first place at the Startup Weekend Competition in Bangalore, two weeks ago. Worth checking.

    Reply
    • asdf

      yea,there are a lot of funny comments and mistakes.

      Reply
  43. andrew1

    ive bin on this site for about 10 mins and all i can say is ur talking alot of sense

    Reply
  44. veera deep

    i was finding an article on mistakes, thnkx 2 god i got 1,this one really helped me ,i think its’ true n impertinent tht v must learn frm r mistakes ,gils n guys those who wish 2 find me on fb are surely welcome ,,,,v will will share r mistakes of life whether major or minor

    Reply
  45. torrents illegal in us

    I usually do not drop a bunch of responses, however I browsed some comments
    on this page #44 – How to learn from your mistakes.
    I do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be simply me or does it seem like a few of the remarks come across like they are coming from brain dead folks? :-P And, if you are posting at other online social sites, I’d like to follow everything new you have to post.
    Would you list of all of your social community pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

    Reply

Pingbacks

  1. […] We all make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable. What makes mistakes worse is failure to correct your own mistakes. It is hard to imagine any negotiation without any mistakes. Once you make a mistake in your negotiation, correct it immediately. Do not allow your mistakes affect you in anyway. While making mistakes is good, repeating mistakes is definitely not. Apart from correcting your own mistakes, learn from the mistakes. […]

  2. […] all mistakes of course carry the same weight and you can classify them in various ways. There are stupid ones, like insulting the boss or, knocking coffee all over your […]

  3. […] “You can only learn from a mistake after you admit you’ve made it. As soon as you start blaming other people (or the universe itself) you distance yourself from any possible lesson. But if you courageously stand up and honestly say “This is my mistake and I am responsible” the possibilities for learning will move towards you. Admission of a mistake, even if only privately to yourself, makes learning possible by moving the focus away from blame assignment and towards understanding.” – Scott Berkun, #44 […]

  4. […] People don’t laugh at failure, they cheer for it. So don’t be embarrassed or sad if you fail, embrace it, learn from it, and move on! Need help learning from your mistakes? Check out these tips from Scott Berkun’s blog: […]

  5. […] Ready? You are wrong. You are wrong much of the time. I’m wrong too and some of what I write in this essay will be wrong (except for this sentence). Even if you are brilliant, successful, happy and loved, you are wrong and ignorant more than you realize. This is not your fault. None of our theories about the world are entirely true and this is good. If we had perfect answers for things progress would be impossible, as to believe in the idea of progress requires belief in the many ignorances of the present. Look back in time 100, 50, or even 5 years, and consider how misguided the wisest, smartest people of those days were compared with what you know now. Governments, religions, cultures and traditions all change, despite what they say, and there is not a one of them still standing that is exactly the same as it was when it started. The traditions that have remained may have value, but ask yourself: who decided what to keep and what to throw away? And why did they decide what they decided? Without knowing the answers to the questions, how can you know exactly what it is you are right and wrong about in what you believe? Especially if these traditions have been changing for 100s or 1000s of years? It’s ok to be wrong if you learn something and grow from it. In fact often there’s no way to learn without making mistakes. […]

  6. […] Ready? You are wrong. You are wrong much of the time. I’m wrong too and some of what I write in this essay will be wrong (except for this sentence). Even if you are brilliant, successful, happy and loved, you are wrong and ignorant more than you realize. This is not your fault. None of our theories about the world are entirely true and this is good. If we had perfect answers for things progress would be impossible, as to believe in the idea of progress requires belief in the many ignorances of the present. Look back in time 100, 50, or even 5 years, and consider how misguided the wisest, smartest people of those days were compared with what you know now. Governments, religions, cultures and traditions all change, despite what they say, and there is not a one of them still standing that is exactly the same as it was when it started. The traditions that have remained may have value, but ask yourself: who decided what to keep and what to throw away? And why did they decide what they decided? Without knowing the answers to the questions, how can you know exactly what it is you are right and wrong about in what you believe? Especially if these traditions have been changing for 100s or 1000s of years? It’s ok to be wrong if you learn something and grow from it. In fact often there’s no way to learn without making mistakes. […]

Leave a Reply

* Required