Life experiences between people tend to both overlap and wildly vary, but one thing is certain: we all make mistakes. Be it something silly or something tragic, people screw up. However, what we do following a mistake is more important than the mistake itself. We have two choices after messing up: we continue making the same choices or we own up and learn to change how we act. Our actions define us. Throughout my life I have made more mistakes than I am willing to admit. Some simple and some drastic. Yet I continue to make mistakes, but I continue to learn from them.
What Purpose do Mistakes Serve?
Most people consider their screw ups and failures as something we brush under the rug, never to look at again. This kind of thinking leads to repeating our choices, hitting the wall over and over. How are we supposed to progress if we never make it past those hurdles? How are we supposed to grow?
Our mistakes form some of our most important learning experiences. When we make an error it presents us with the chance of self-improvement (I see the willingness to improve as one of the most important characteristics in a person). These chances afford us the opportunity to learn what NOT to do vs what to do. They happen to prevent us from failing over and over. That said, failure doesn’t mean the end of the world.
Mistakes Aren’t the End of the World, they Open It
When you first realized you messed up, you may feel like your world is on fire. It isn’t, but it’s normal to feel that way. Always remember “everyone makes mistakes” is quite true. The primary blame for your mistakes does fall on you, yet this is rather easy to forget when one tries to assign blame on others. The world seems much larger once you accept your mistakes. You start realizing all the other possibilities when it comes to decision making, you have an easier time trying things differently.
Pushing Past and Learning from our Failures and Mistakes
When we acknowledge our mistakes, screw ups, and failures we give ourselves something to stand upon. It takes a lot to admit you messed up, but when you do, you push past it. Many successful people are known for making quite a bit of mistakes. One of my favorite singers/songwriters, Johnny Cash, made plenty during his life, but it didn’t stop him from achieving his goals. Recently I found a quote of his: “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
When Johnny Cash said not to dwell on our failures, I believe he means not to let them become our dominant thoughts. Letting our mistakes define us prevents us from moving past, from making progress. But using them as stepping stones provides us with the motivation to do better. The drive to improve upon one’s failures drives many successful people to push themselves. Two good examples are Gatorade’s “The Secret to Victory” and Nike’s classic “Failure” ads.
In Gatorade’s ad, athletes like Micheal Jordan and the Manning brothers tell us that they succeeded because they failed. In Micheal Jordan’s “Failure” ad, he tells us all about his failures and mistakes. Much like Johnny Cash, they’re telling us that failure serves as a launch pad for success. Personally I feel that this is the truth for everyone, not just the rich and popular.
Owning and Using Our Mistakes to Our Benefit
Once we acknowledge that we screwed up, made the wrong choice, failed, and that it’s our fault, we finally see it as our path to success. We’re good to go. But in order to do this, we must breakdown how and why we made the mistake. Rather than looking at the event or choice from one side or assign blame, we need to attack it from multiple angles. Doing so allows us to perceive in ways that we hadn’t before. You have to ask yourself things like “why did i do that,” “what could i do to keep from doing this again,” “how can I make this right,” and “where do we go from here?” Answering questions like these are vital (there are always more questions and angles of course).
After we figure out how and why we did what we did, we can learn how to prevent ourselves from repeating those same mistakes. A personal example that is occasionally reoccurring in my life is that I can get over-confident, screw up, and often get stuck on dwelling on it. Once I say to myself “I messed up” and completely take ownership of my failure, I see how to prevent it from occurring again. This often happened with me in school because I would usually work too fast and mistakes would slip right under my nose. This taught me to slow down instead of taking everything at full throttle. As a result, ended up making raising my GPA and landing on the dean’s list twice.
Using your mistakes as your driving force for self-improvement can be a powerful tool. Just don’t dwell on them too much and you’ll find yourself on the way to success.
Further Reading on Mistakes
Failure Is Essential to Learning – Edutopia
Learning from failure – The Economist